Food Safety Initiative
7 steps to ensuring restaurant food safety
13 JUNE 2019
n — both within restaurant companies and with suppliers and industry peers — is crucial to ensuring a food supply that’s safe from farm to fork, agreed attendees at the eighth annual Food Safety Symposium held in Denver this month.
During the two-day conference, sponsored by Ecolab and produced by Nation’s Restaurant News, nearly 40 food safety professionals discussed the many ways they build systems that encourage collaboration and vigilance, especially among employees.
Food safety “needs to be part of your core values,” William Moore, director of safety and security for Eat’n Park Hospitality Inc., the Homestead, Pa.-based parent of the 75-unit Eat’n Park family-dining chain, said during his keynote speech. “If it’s not in your core values, your mission statement, then it’s not a priority.”
The symposium occurred against the backdrop of a Cyclospora outbreak that had sickened 642 people in 25 states, leading to 45 hospitalizations but no deaths, throughout the summer. The cause of the outbreak was still under investigation at press time, although a salad mix from Taylor Farms de Mexico served at Darden Restaurants Inc. in two states had been implicated in about 240 of the illnesses.
In discussing the outbreak during the symposium, William Marler, an attorney specializing in food safety cases with Seattle-based MarlerClark, said he too was perplexed by the situation and had yet to file any lawsuits. The scope and complexity of the outbreak, however, underscored the responsibility of each player in the farm-to-fork chain.
Here are some other top takeaways from the symposium:
1. Make food safety training engaging.
Hand washing and proper holding temperatures — the basics of food safety — have not changed in 30 years, said Moore of Eat’n Park. The key is keeping the message fresh so that employees pay attention.
With a workforce largely under the age of 25, employers need to make sure their messages are quick and easy to grasp. Moore said he relies on lots of colorful visuals, and customized posters, comics, video clips featuring celebrities, games like Pandemic 2, and stuffed-animal germs and microbes are among his favorites.
Tugging at the heartstrings doesn’t hurt either, said several attendees. Al Baroudi, Ph.D., vice president, quality assurance and food safety for The Cheesecake Factory Inc., the Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based operator of 175 upscale casual-dining restaurants, shows his audiences an image of the hundreds of children and adults that have died during foodborne illness outbreaks to drive home the point that lives are stake.
2. Communication and responsibility
Jack Quinn, vice president, industry relations for Ecolab, heats up the kitchen during an interactive cooking workshop.
Food safety messages must be crafted differently for different constituents — especially to encourage collaboration, said Jorge Hernandez, senior vice president, food safety and quality assurance for US Foods, a foodservice distributor based in Rosemont, Ill. For instance, unit-level employees at Chick-fil-A are given a summary of their health department inspections that eliminates agency speak and highlights the actions they need to take immediately, said Hal King, Ph.D., the 1,670-unit Atlanta-based chain’s director of food and product safety.
At US Foods, Hernandez hired a former regulator to talk effectively with inspectors. And senior executives need to hear numbers — including sales at risk should a food safety event occur, as well as the costs associated with potential lawsuits — to capture their attention.
“We have to show an ROI,” King said. “I can show how $10,000 invested will save $1 million.”
3. Emphasize that food safety is a shared responsibility.
Quality assurance officials may be a brand’s food safety face, but making sure food safety standards are upheld is a shared responsibility. Third-party assessments can be a powerful way to drive that message home.
Chick-fil-A begins with daily self-assessments conducted in a downloadable self-assessment app. Those results are reviewed instantly at the unit level and weekly at the corporate level to pinpoint potential issues. “We leverage smartphones to leverage behavior on the employees,” King said.
Similarly, third-party assessments are conducted one-on-one with real-time corrective action. “We find a violation and we stay there and coach them through,” King said.
-unit Bob Evans Farms family-dining chain sets its units up for audit success with an internal website that includes, among other information, sample audits so unit-level employees have the tools to pass real audits. Employees also have several references on food safety, sick workers and cleaning on site.
Bob Evans publishes audit results weekly, and gives incentives, such as gifts, money and year-end bonuses, for outstanding performance. “The best part of my job is when I go out to see the managers and reward them,” said Richard McKinney, senior director, food safety and quality assurance for the Columbus, Ohio-based chain.
4. Pay attention to product holding temperatures.
Between 1998 and 2008, improper holding of food was the biggest risk factor for foodborne illness outbreaks, said Ecolab’s Petran, citing Centers for Disease Control & Prevention research findings. During that time, the CDC linked 504 restaurant outbreaks to improperly cooled foods, she said.
Operators can help reduce food-safety risks by making sure that the holding equipment they use is designed and maintained to keep foods below 41 degrees Fahrenheit and above 135 degrees, and that employees regularly monitor foods in holding with calibrated thermometers, Petran said.
But while that may sound easy to accomplish, Petran cited data collected at 420 restaurants, including chain and independent venues, that showed that that the ambient temperature in equipment holding cold food measured greater than 41 degrees 16 percent of the time. Further, related observations indicated that cooling pans were not shallow enough to ensure good contact between food and surfaces in direct contact with cold baths; that there was limited ventilation in cold storage areas; that foods were improperly stacked on top of each other in coolers; that there was an insufficient amount of ice in cold baths; and that managers who said they were trained did not properly monitor time or temperatures 41 percent of the time and had thermometer calibration issues 31 percent of the time.
5. Managing crisis and doing the right thing
Emily Thompson, senior quality assurance manager for Red Robin, shares best practices during Table Talk Roundtable discussions.
At Texas Roadhouse, crisis simulations run with the help of a consultant give employees a chance to test procedures in a real-time manner and identify and correct shortcomings, said Patrick Sterling, director of risk management for Louisville, Ky.-based Texas Roadhouse, a 400-plus-unit casual-dining chain.
Simulations should incorporate all aspects of the management plan being tested, Sterling said. For example, if the simulation is to test your company’s reaction to a major foodborne illness outbreak, don’t start with an understanding that an outbreak is underway and launch right into the reaction of corporate executives, but rather begin the drill by having simulated calls come in from restaurants or health departments to a corporate hotline, if that is the procedure.
“You can’t prepare for every crisis,” Sterling said. “So you have to have smoldering crisis and surprise crisis templates. Because each crisis is unique, tabletop exercises test the system. [Your plan] may look great on paper, but you need to test the system.”
6. Look for the signs of potential problems and act on them.
Closely monitor internal communications and public health developments for indications of possible food-safety problems, advised attorney Marler.
Bill Marler of Marler Clark, the food safety law firm, provides legal insight and advice to attendees during an interactive Q
“I can’t think of a foodborne illness outbreak that I’ve been involved in that — and I always get the benefit of hindsight — that when you look back over what happened before the outbreak, there wasn’t always a sign or two that you could have done something to turn the bus around before it went off the cliff,” the veteran litigator remarked.
Marler obtained many millions of dollars in compensation for victims of the deadly 1992-93 multi-state E. coli O157:H7 outbreak from undercooked burgers sold by Jack in the Box. In that case, he cited an unheeded pre-outbreak notification from the Washington state department of health about the need to cook burgers to an internal temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit, versus the 140-degree standard indicated by the federal Food Code at the time. He also pointed to a suggestion faxed from a store-level employee with the idea of grilling burgers longer because some were not being fully cooked and customers were complaining.
Marler, who advocates a full range of disease screening and reporting by public health agencies, as well as additional pathogen testing at the manufacturing level to prevent oubreaks, added that if California had been among the handful of states in 1992 that publicly reported O157:H7 illnesses, the Jack in the Box outbreak might have been significantly blunted because a smaller cluster of illnesses there preceded a much larger outbreak in Washington. Marler noted that social media makes such evidence even easier to secure nowadays.
7. Do the right thing.
During a norovirus outbreak, Texas Roadhouse officials set up a hotline staffed with nurses to take calls from sick patrons. They alerted the media that medical advice was available and were able to dull the negative publicity and assure customers that their well being was front of mind.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FOOD SAFETY STANDARDS IN SA
06 JUNE 2019
Countries which have implemented such legislation and industry governance have seen a massive reduction in the number, and severity, of outbreaks
The recent Listeria outbreak, which claimed over 180 lives, has been a major eye opener for South Africans and has resulted in consumers not just questioning food safety standards, but insisting on a zero-tolerance approach to bacterial contamination and exposure.
Gareth-Lloyd Jones, Chief Commercial Officer at Ecowize – South Africa’s leading specialised hygiene and sanitation service provider for the food, pharmaceutical and healthcare industries – asks, “Is zero bacterial exposure actually realistic?”
“In short, the answer is no,” he says. “Ultimately, we live in an environment where we are constantly exposed to bacteria. However, South Africa’s food producers are going to have to get as close to zero as practically possible. And, in terms of bacteria that have the potential to cause human health issues, more stringent procedures need to be in place to ensure the lowest risk of contamination.”
In the midst of the recent outbreak, food microbiology and safety specialist, Dr Lucia Anelich highlighted that there are a number of food safety management standards applied by South African food companies. These standards, she says, are based on what is referred to as a ‘hazard analysis and critical control points system’ but – unlike in many other countries – these standards are not legally required or enforced in South Africa.
Jones says, “With this in mind, there is an urgent need for enforceable regulations to be introduced which address all pathogens – beyond those currently in place for Salmonella and E. coli. The introduction of a designated food control or food safety agency would also go a long way towards ensuring a safer environment in which food products are produced.”
“Countries which have implemented such legislation and industry governance have seen a massive reduction in the number, and severity, of outbreaks,” he explains.
A factor which Jones insists needs to be included in the food safety legislation discussion is defining what ‘zero’ actually means in this context. “To guarantee that there is clarity and, of course, compliance within the industry, it should be clear whether it means absolutely no trace of harmful bacteria within a facility. Alternatively, it may mean zero contaminants found on actual food products, or that a set range of certain bacteria – which are not harmful in small amounts – is acceptable. We need to focus on setting these strict and transparent guidelines to achieve the optimum result,” he explains.
Jones highlights that enforcing these standards by modernising legislation and introducing a food safety agency will require many of the country’s food producers to make a massive investment of time and resources relating to their hygiene, maintenance and engineering practices.
“I have noticed that many companies have already started this process and are investing millions. However, these are producers of more premium products. The producers of lower-cost food products like many of the ready-to-eat cold meats would find this process a lot more difficult and would need much longer to fully implement the required changes.”
“There is a great deal of pressure on the ready-to-eat industry following the Listeria outbreak and things are not likely to become easier moving forward. Within this industry, emphasis is placed on their financial competitiveness and keeping their prices low enough to meet retailer and consumer demand. Ultimately, food safety and hygiene practices are an expense for these companies and something they may therefore have considered cutting back on in the past,” he says.
Beyond legislation, Jones adds that the adoption of a designated food safety agency would require funding, which would likely be gathered through some kind of tax – be it from the food industry or through general tax collection.
“The increased cost of more stringent and advanced hygiene and food safety practices, and additional taxes, will likely result in products being sold at higher prices as this cost is passed on to retailers and ultimately to consumers,” he explains.
“The bottom line is that an investment needs to be made to reduce the risk of another dreadful outbreak. While consumers demand a zero-tolerance approach be implemented, as they rightfully deserve to trust that the food they consume is safe, investment in this safety comes at a cost – for the public sector, the national food industry, local retailers, and the end consumer,” he concludes.
SAFE QUALITY FOOD (SQF) CERTIFICATION
04 JUNE 2019
Confirm that your food products meet the highest possible standards with SQF certification from SGS.
SQF is recognized by major retailers and foodservice providers around the world who require a rigorous, credible food safety management system. Designed as a food safety program, SQF also covers product quality with the SQF quality code, a feature that is unique to a certification program of this type. We offer SQF certification to confirm that your organization produces, processes, prepares and handles food products to the highest possible standards globally.
SQF applies to the entire supply chain, including the following:
- Farm to fork
- A separate standard to assess product and service quality attributes
- A quality shield that can be displayed on the products of quality certified sites
- The Codex HACCP methodology to identify and control food safety and food quality hazards
- An ethical module
SQF requires a designated on-site practitioner responsible for the implementation and maintenance of the program.
Why choose SQF certification from SGS?
SQF certification helps your business to:
- Improve process management by helping to identify and manage risk
- Prepare for existing and new food safety and regulatory requirements
- Provide proof of due diligence and instill confidence in food safety, quality and legality
- Monitor product safety and quality
- Gain a higher level of compliance for all programs
- Increase profits
- Reduce customer complaints
- Improve traceability
- Reduce recalls and withdrawals
SQF food certification – recognized by GFSI
As a world leading provider of certification services, we offer you in-depth expertise in SQF requirements. The SQF program is recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) as a scheme that can offer a seamless ‘field to fork’ food safety and quality certification solution. It provides supply chain management for the following processes:
- Primary production
- Food manufacturing
- Storage and distribution
- Food packaging manufacturing
- Retail operations
To find out more about SQF certification, contact us today.
NEW FOOD-SAFETY REGULATIONS IMMINENT
03 JUNE 2019
DISPOSAL: Polony products from Enterprise Foods and Rainbow Chicken are the main causes of listeriosis in the country. An Interwaste truck leaves the Enterprise factory in Germiston to dispose of contaminated foods. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency (ANA)
It’s too early to begin fathoming the full impact of the listeriosis outbreak, but already 183 people have died and just under 1000 people taken ill in South Africa alone.
As listeriosis is not a notifiable disease elsewhere in the Southern African Development Community region, the death toll is likely to be far higher – some estimating as many as 500 deaths.
Lawyers have announced their intention to launch a class-action lawsuit, while the food manufacturers in the eye of the storm scramble to shift blame and hatch a PR response that’s vaguely compassionate.
The outbreak’s been a long time coming because of an alarming lack of government oversight of the sector. Now, food safety regulations are likely to be expedited to prevent other such outbreaks.
Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has acknowledged there are flaws in the system, citing a lack of environmental health practitioners (EHPs), but has denied his department should have moved faster in identifying the listeria outbreak.
Yet countrywide, there’s a shortage of at least 3300 EHPs and local municipalities are unable to do the job effectively.
During a debate in the National Assembly on March 8, Motsoaledi said: “It was a mistake for the constitution to give that job to local government, because municipalities can’t afford it because they’ve got basic services to provide.”
Food safety expert Linda Jackson of Food Focus says, with this outbreak, the government is under pressure to improve its activities and is likely to publish the revised food hygiene regulations soon.
“We only have one regulation in place – the Regulations Governing General Hygiene Requirements for Food Premises and the Transport of Food (R962) – which is very basic in terms of controls.
“It is really not onerous and requires any restaurant to have a certain number of toilets, hand-wash basins and pest and waste control. It also addresses the finishes in kitchens in broad terms to ensure cleanability.
“It requires the person in charge to provide training for their staff on hygiene matters, but this is hugely problematic,” Jackson said.
The new requirements, known as R364, are far more stringent because they shift more responsibility on to who’s in charge: they need to be able to prove certain actions and be trained themselves.
“The guy who makes the decisions was never required to be trained on the principles of food safety – it’s the blind leading the blind,” she said.
“The new regulations bring us in line with the US and Europe. Often the owner of a restaurant doesn’t fully understand why certain activities are a risk to consumers’ health – and that not leading by example puts their business at risk.”
Jackson said implementation would be tough because hygiene controls need to be improved: “The restaurant chains set rules, they audit, but the privately-owned restaurants don’t necessarily have systems in place. They are doing things wrong and don’t realise this.
“The only way this is going to work is if we have more EHPs and more surveillance.”
The weaknesses in the system have been identified in the listeriosis outbreak and the government needs to be seen to act. “If we don’t increase our legislative framework, the rest of the world will take an even dimmer view of our food safety.
“It’s the right thing to introduce it, but to be effective we need to have increased capacity for monitoring. It’s the most basic thing we can do as a country, but we can’t have a toothless bulldog.”
R364 is an improvement, but it’s still lagging behind EU regulations, she said, because it tells the industry what to do but it doesn’t take into account risks such as the menu and raw materials.
“Although this regulation is an improvement, we are still not requiring a full-blown HACCP approach, as they do elsewhere.”
HACCP or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points is a systemic approach to food safety used by the World Health Organisation to prevent biological, chemical and physical hazards in production processes. It’s proactive in that it aims to avoid hazards rather than attempting to deal with the fallout of the effects of those hazards.
“The system is used at all stages of the food chain, from ‘farm to fork’, in production and preparation processes to packaging and distribution.
“It can also be applied to industries other than food, such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics,” Jackson said.
The HACCP concept of managing food safety was originally a collaboration between the US Army, Nasa and Pillsbury to produce food safe for space exploration. It uses a worst-case scenario to prevent a problem rather than treat it. The only sector that has to comply to HACCP in South Africa is peanut butter, because of the school feeding schemes and the high risk of aflatoxin contamination in the peanuts that can have serious health implications.
“The scope of our HACCP regulation R908 must be extended beyond peanut butter,” she says. “The entire food sector should have to comply. It’s likely they’ll change the scope now, but it’s a reactive approach to a problem.”
“Using HACCP is like having a fire extinguisher – you hope you never need to use it, but you still have one – just in case. We think about what could go wrong and put all the controls in place to ensure that it doesn’t.
“The rest of the world is already applying these principles. We need to move to this. It’s all very well to have it, but if we aren’t enforcing it, again, it won’t help us to ensure safe food.”
Jackson’s also questioning why it’s taken so long for the food-safety regulations to be passed. R364 was first published in 2015 and has still not been signed into law, while the sugar tax, which has been criticised as being too low to be effective in curtailing sugar consumption, but which is estimated to generate in excess of R4billion annually for the fiscus, was promulgated barely 18 months after it was tabled.
With no indication of when R364 will become law and practical issues that still need to be resolved, Foster Mohale, communications director in the Health Department, could only confirm that the regulations were still under consideration, but could give no time line nor comment on the 3300 vacancies.
“The (R364 regulations) are currently undergoing the second phase of legal processes which include translation into the second language as part of the constitutional requirements. Once this is concluded, the minister will publish the regulations in the Government Gazette.”
STATEMENT FROM RCL FOODS RELATED TO THE OUTBREAK OF LISTERIOSIS
04 MARCH 2018
STATEMENT FROM RCL FOODS RELATED TO THE OUTBREAK OF LISTERIOSIS
Following the media statement issued by the Minister of Health on 4 March 2018 related to the recent outbreak of Listeriosis in South Africa, RCL FOODS’ Board and management remain deeply concerned about this tragic outbreak, and its effect on many South Africans. It is being treated as a crisis internally, and a senior team is in contact with all relevant stakeholders to discuss the significant impacts of this issue.
RCL FOODS can confirm that its Wolwehoek processing plant has taken the pre-cautionary measure to suspend all production of RCL FOODS’ Rainbow Polony brand. Additionally, it is in the process of recalling all Rainbow Polony products from its entire customer base. This is despite the fact that the results from testing of its polony product is still pending. In line with the Department of Health’s (DoH) announcement, it must be highlighted that the specific pathogen responsible for the outbreak has not been isolated to the Wolwehoek facility. RCL FOODS is continuing its detailed discussions and is working closely with representatives from the DoH, the Department of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (DAFF), and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). RCL FOODS is sharing all results from its testing, both internally and externally, with the relevant authorities.
RCL FOODS’ Stephen Heath commented, “In line with RCL FOODS’ strict food safety protocol, we have rigorous food safety procedures in place which include our own regular product and environmental testing, and these have been further strengthened as a precautionary measure in recent months. Rigid controls remain in place to mitigate any food safety risks, including microbiological risks, at all our food production facilities. We will continue to take every precaution to safeguard our products as well as our consumers.”
All RCL FOODS facilities are FSSC (Food Safety System Certification) 22000 or ISO 22000 compliant. As part of RCL FOODS’ Food Safety Management System (FSMS) the company follows strict procedures for pathogen management. These include but are not limited to:
Hazard identification and Risk Assessments;
- Raw material management (SQA, Microbiological verification);
- Cleaning procedures;
- Procedures to prevent cross contamination; and
- Scheduled testing of products and processing environments.
Additional announcements will be made in due course.
Additional note: It has been stated on social media commentary that Enterprise forms part of RCL FOODS. Please note that RCL FOODS is not the owner of Enterprise and does not manufacture any of it brands.
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