Closer scrutiny of suppliers to catch problems before they reach the restaurant can better protect consumers and brands, professionals charged with those tasks indicated at the 12th annual Nation’s Restaurant News Food Safety Symposium sponsored by Ecolab.
This year’s symposium — Sept. 17 to 19 at the Renaissance New Orleans Arts Warehouse District Hotel in New Orleans — was attended by three dozen operators and industry experts.
Here are five food-safety best practices from the invite-only event’s education sessions and peer-to-peer roundtable discussions:
1. Delivery is trending, but so are concerns about safety
When dealing with third-party food delivery companies, focus on your contracts for greater food safety peace of mind, said Mandy Sedlak, director of supply chain, food safety and quality assurance at Famous Dave’s of America Inc., which deals with three such firms.
Sedlak said operators should negotiate rights and obligations clauses in contracts that spell out such things as foodborne illness liability and insurance levels; required temperature range of food at the time of pickup; delivery company food storage and handling requirements; maximum food transit times and whether offerings can be part of a multi-stop delivery; and packaging requirements. She noted that Famous Dave’s seals its delivery packaging so that tampering is more evident, and has restaurant staff and consumers rate delivery drivers for greater transparency.
“Caution” is a byword even for operators with highly controlled in-house delivery resources, such as at 28-restaurant, 10-bakery Boudin Bakery, which has more than 60 refrigerated vans and an environment-controlled delivery and catering production facility. Panelist Ben Sanders, director of safety and compliance at Boudin, where cold salads and sandwiches without a final preparation pathogen kill step are the biggest sellers, said he partners with his marketing team to identify menu items that should not be delivered because of food safety and quality concerns.
2. Food fraud is more than product substitution and operator exposure from it is growing
Beyond substitution issues, such as when a distributor or restaurateur labels a lesser cow Kobe beef, food fraud can take many other forms, said John Ryan, president of the Ryan Systems Inc. consultancy and author of the book, “Food Fraud.” Fraud also entails the use of unidentified food additives, such as flavoring solutions that add weight to meat, false ingredient or nutritional claims on labels, the sale of edibles that were unsafely handled in transit or any number of moves that represent “economically motivated adulteration,” he said.
Developments as disparate as rising food imports and growth in delivery of restaurant meals mean operators must be increasingly diligent, Ryan suggested, as “any time you extend the supply chain ... you have the opportunity for food fraud.” He said the pressure to not buy or sell fraudulent products is building for a number of reasons, including growing demand among consumers and lawmakers for accurate information about allergens and genetically modified organisms, the increasing codification of what constitutes food fraud, such as in the federal Food Safety Modernization Act, and new tests for detecting fraud.
3. Employee training, equipment hygiene and on-site gardens improve with resources and reminders
Laura Lashbrook, quality assurance manager for Papa Murphy’s Take ‘n’ Bake Pizza-parent Papa Murphy’s International, cited her system’s 12-store test of job aids, or video clips that augment printed procedures materials. Access to job aids comes via QR-code like special graphics that trigger content play on mobile devices. Papa Murphy’s expects the technology to be available systemwide in 2018.
Another fresh foods panelist, Ralph Iglesias, senior director of food safety, training and brand compliance at Sizzler USA Inc., parent of the Sizzler grill-and-salad-bar chain, said proper equipment cleaning is emphasized and remedial training provided through a “focus of the quarter” program that rotates across various preparation implements.
And in response to the growth in restaurants trying to shorten the supply chain for fresh foods through on premise gardens, Compass Group has produced a food-safety manual for such micro farming and processing initiatives, said Linda Gilardi, the contract feeder’s vice president of quality assurance for North America.
4. Leverage regulatory requirements to make food safer
Conference keynoter Harold “Hal“ King, formerly of Chick-fil-A Inc. and now president of the Public Health Innovations consultancy, outlined a strategy to help operators narrow and improve their monitoring of manufacturing partners. The concept is included in his new book, “Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) — Improving Food Safety in Human Food Manufacturing for Food Businesses.”
HARPC, as required by federal Food Safety Modernization Act provisions, means manufacturers subject to U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules increasingly must complete a Food Safety Plan with a hazards analysis for the ingredients, facilities and processes they use. King said manufacturers with Food Safety Plans must also devise and detail in those written plans all of the specific controls they deem necessary to prevent the potential problems suggested by their analysis and monitor the application of those controls.
Rather than rely on broad audits of supplier facilities and processes, overall, King said restaurateurs should evaluate the Food Safety Plan related to the ingredients, processing and facilities for each product they buy from a manufacturer. Operators can use their buying clout to require manufacturers to share government reports, such as FDA plant-inspection results and relevant Food Safety Plan and preventive controls monitoring information.
“Now, I’m not just auditing facilities, I’m actually auditing my product,” he said.
5. In supply-chain safety matters, think outside the audit check-box box
Audits are an important tool, but operators find it important to also take a physical look at the manufacturing process.
At BJ’s Restaurants, senior director of quality assurance Dan Goldberg said that he wants eyes on products BJ’s purchases from new suppliers in addition to detailed first audits. BJ’s QA team isn’t shy about auditing Global Food Safety Initiative accredited manufacturers despite that program’s “once-and-done” qualification process.
At Huddle House, efforts around food safety at the chain’s self-operated distribution centers include the simple but critical temperature check of all incoming refrigerated supplier trucks, said Donald Howell, Huddle House’s director of brand standards and quality assurance. The chain also does black-light filth checks for urine, rodent droppings and pest presence in all cargo trucks. Howell advised obtaining a certificate of product guarantee instead of a less formal and binding letter.
Team structure can make a difference, too. After Red Lobster was sold by multi-concept Darden Restaurants Inc. in 2014, the chain moved from a system of having separate teams of restaurant food safety and supply chain product managers to a team with hybrid personnel handling both tasks, said Red Lobster’s director of total quality and food safety Dennis Price.
“It is important to have a team that really focuses on how it is going to drive standards to leadership and how leadership cascades that message down” through the 704-restaurant organization, he said.