Though food safety is always an important issue for the industry, recent outbreaks and recalls have made it top of mind for restaurateurs — and consumers.
For some food safety procedures and best practices, restaurants can look to supermarkets for assistance, said Neil Checketts, COO at Kneaders Bakery & Café, an Orem, Utah-based fast-casual chain.
Checketts was recently promoted from his role as VP of food safety and quality assurance. Prior to joining Kneaders, he was Walmart’s senior director of food safety.
One way food safety protocols differ in the grocery world is that supermarkets are much better equipped than restaurants to handle recalls because recalls are much more common.
“A normal grocery chain could deal with several hundred recalls a year, just because of the volume of stores they have. Where a restaurant, because of the limited SKUs [stock keeping units] or the limited products that they carry, they may only have one every couple years or every few years,” said Checketts.
“And so a lot of times the restaurant world doesn’t really worry about how am I going to handle a recall, what am I going to do, until it happens.”
Checketts said restaurants could learn from supermarkets’ recall procedures.
The technology and tools grocers use to monitor food safety could also be shared, he said.
“There’s systems that have been built by some companies that retail has used for a long time and those are systems that could very well be used in the restaurant world. And that’s one of the things that I’m working on here at Kneaders as well,” said Checketts.
Restaurants have long had a bit of a perception problem when it comes to food safety. The percentage of consumers who say food sold at restaurants is safe has stayed, on average, between 47 percent and 49 percent in the past decade, according to the NPD Group’s Food Safety Monitor.
Supermarkets have typically fared better, although as grocers add more prepared foods that is starting to change. NPD’s latest survey shows 58 percent of U.S consumers currently believe that food sold at supermarkets is safe, compared to 66 percent in 2006.
Checketts noted supermarkets could also learn from their counterparts in foodservice when it comes to safe handling of prepared foods.
Changes in consumer perception likely have some link to improvements in testing and outbreak tracking that have led to an increased availability of information, Checketts said. The fact that there are more recalls and outbreaks on the nightly news doesn’t mean that food safety has gone down.
“What the reality is — and I would say and there is evidence to support this — our rates of most of these illnesses and situations in restaurants and grocery stores is actually going down, from an overall perspective. What happens though is we’re getting more and more that are reported.”
Ultimately, even good companies may face a food safety incident. The most important thing is how they handle it, said Checketts.
“The good companies that have taken this seriously, what they will do is when an issue does occur they will have a plan that helps them mitigate and address the risk much faster than somebody who doesn’t.”