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    Best Practices in Food Safety and Sanitation

    Food safety and sanitation is one of the most democratic of foodservice topics.

     

    There is no faster way to discredit a foodservice business than to make customers sick from your food. In addition to the health and emotional damage to customers, think of the public relations disaster and financial damage to your company.

    Think how difficult it would be to once again rebuild customer trust and credibility, if you can at all. This is what should keep foodservice executives — and top management — up at night.

    Food safety and sanitation is one of the most democratic of foodservice topics — education and training applies equally to all companies and foodservice operation levels, and breaches can strike companies as equally harsh, too.

    So this month, in a departure from our usual Foodservice 101, Foodservice 201 and Foodservice 301 format, our core article applies to all convenience store retailers with foodservice operations, with Hot Tips broken out for beginner, intermediate and advanced players.

    Over the past five or six years, the convenience store industry has come a long way in its adherence to the disciplines of food safety and sanitation, and in ensuring the issue remains front and center. However, many consumers continue to report they do not think c-stores are clean and they do not trust the quality and safety of food sold in c-stores. True or not, until those consumer perceptions are completely altered, the industry must redouble its efforts to dispel them. Of course, programs such as the National Restaurant Association's ServSafe certification programs and the NACS Café programs — which feature ServSafe training among other foodservice training programs — ensure access to all industry players. Still, this topic can never be talked about or reviewed too much, according to the members of Convenience Store News' How To Crew.

    Jack W. Cushman,
    Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes
    Eric Giandelone, 
    Mintel Foodservice
    Kane Kulas, 
    CSM Bakery Products
    Larry Miller, 
    Miller Management 
    & Consulting Services

    Paul Pierce, 
    7-Eleven Inc. (formerly)
    Chad Prast, 
    VPS Convenience 
    Store Group
    Jennifer Vespole,
    Quick Chek Corp.
    Dean Dirks, 
    b2b Solutions

    Burke Hodge, 
    The Coffee Consultants
    Michael Lawshe, 
    Paragon Solutions
    Maurice Minno, 
    MPM Group
    Tim Powell, 
    Technomic

       
    Bonnie Riggs, 
    The NPD Group
    Jerry Weiner, 
    Rutter's Farm Stores
       

    Retailers who have made the leap from a retail-centric c-store organization that serves food to a food operator with a hospitality focus make food the organizational and cultural epicenter. At these organizations, food safety is central. Beginner, intermediate or advanced — the prescribed food safety systems are the same although company scale may vary.

    Hot Tips FOR BEGINNERS

    • Look at the chains that are doing a great job and try to understand what makes them great, one expert said. "I can tell you it's in the culture from top to bottom. Embrace that culture and begin with a food safety and sanitation program."
    • Take it seriously and do your homework about what is required in your state and ensure ALL employees know this is the corporate culture and you will hold them accountable. This must come from the most senior person in your company, from the top.
    • Treat your food operation like you are making food at home — keep it clean and organized.

    Hot Tips FOR INTERMEDIATES

    • Check your follow-up program and make sure it has some substance to it.
    • Have visible systems in place such as hand sinks, gloves, clean uniforms, stainless-steel counters, etc.
    • Get certified and market that your employees are ServSafe certified by publicly posting their certificates.

    The Most Common Errors
    Not surprisingly, the most common food safety errors operators make center around food holding — holding food too long, not coding food properly, using incorrect food holding temperatures, not following proper cooking, cleaning and storage procedures; and the death knell of a foodservice program, not washing hands and not wearing gloves. "Although these errors are more common in beginner operations, the intermediate and advanced players are not immune to these same mistakes," one retail expert noted.

    Operators must also ensure their facilities are conducive to food safety in terms of design. Therefore, they must keep stores upgraded and updated. When laying out the food areas, for example, keep it compact so employees have to take few steps to execute programs or reach the right equipment; this ensures food is safe from receiving to consumption. Other broader errors include not taking food safety seriously enough, which usually means detailed standards are lacking and employees are not held accountable to execute to specified standards.

    Operators must have clear and detailed written food safety systems and procedures in place, and they must be as familiar with local regulations as they are with state and federal ones. Systems needed should center on pest control, hand washing, dishwashing, receiving, cooking, holding and proper serving techniques, according to the experts. (See What to Include in a Food Safety Procedures Manual on page 112.)Equally important is implementing an "if then, what" policy.

    What to Include in a Food Safety Procedures Manual
    Foodservice written procedures and systems should be reviewed and updated annually, according to Maurice Minno, partner of consultancy MPM Group. At a minimum, they should include the following components:

    • Procedures for cleaning and sanitation and pest control;
    • Food safety training program for new employees and ongoing refresher training for existing employees;
    • Employee health and hygiene;
    • Delivery and handling of foodservice products at each store and throughout the entire foodservice supply chain;
    • Storage of foodservice products including shelf life and the rotation of products;
    • Actions to correct deficiencies/deviations from standard compliance; and
    • A foodservice crisis response plan with product recall procedures, and assigned roles and responsibilities of all key personnel involved.

    For example, if the equipment breaks, who should the employees call and what should they do until help arrives so the operation can stay open and the food remain safe? "Incorporate this detail into your company's training program for new and existing employees to begin to enhance your foodservice culture," one retail expert said. "This is critical. All employees must know that you, as a company, are serious about food safety."

    Training and Inspections
    External training is recommended for operators who do not have the internal resources to train and re-train foodservice employees. However, it tends to be more costly and not as convenient logistically, according to the experts.

    For those that choose in-house training, it is critical to ensure that the trainers are all certified to teach food safety, which among other things, will ensure that information delivered to employees is accurate and consistent.

    Of course, what good are standards without audits and inspections? In-store standards should be inspected by either operational supervisors or foodservice supervisors, and should hold employees accountable. The largest chains, especially those with a broad geographic distribution, might consider hiring sanitation field inspectors to ensure standards consistency among stores, one expert recommended.

    Ideally, responsibility for food safety programs and inspections/audits should be assigned to a specific position at the store level and at higher management levels as well. And accountability and consequences have to be tied to employee performance, experts agreed.


    "This is what should keep you up at night. Take it as serious as it is. Besides the obvious damage you could cause to customers, the financial damage could destroy your company."
    — Jerry Weiner, Rutter's Farm Stores

    Maurice Minno, partner of consultancy MPM Group, recommends specific actions based on inspection/audit scores. Some ideas to consider include:

    • All positions at stores with resulting compliance audit scores above a set minimum threshold (90 percent or above) could be rewarded with a bonus.
    • Those with acceptable scores (80 percent to 89 percent) would have no consequences.
    • Actions for positions at stores achieving audit scores below the minimum acceptable number could range from written warnings, work suspensions and/or loss of earned quarterly bonuses.
    • Positions in stores with second infractions with scores below acceptable minimums could result in termination.

    Stores that receive below minimum audit scores should also be put on a "watch list" and in-store positions targeted for re-training and re-certification to food safety standards, Minno noted.

    "Don't assume your foodservice program is fully in compliance all the time. Do not become complacent," Minno warned. "Be proactive in the development, on-going refinement and management of the right food safety program standards, key performance indicators and auditing processes," he said. "Food safety is not just one person's responsibility. It is the responsibility of senior management, as well as all of the positions at the regional and store level with a stake in delivering the foodservice program."

    Hot Tips FOR THE ADVANCED

    • Don't get complacent. Make a point of reviewing your standards and training programs regularly.
    • Have open kitchens where customers can see employees preparing food safely, washing hands and sanitizing counters.
    • Have a culture of "clean" that translates into healthy and fresh. "You have to think of these three things as one in the same, then you will have the 'aha' moment," one expert said.
    • At this level, you simply have more equipment; it's more complicated and requires management with a thorough understanding of each piece of equipment. "You will need layers of management that understand training, food safety and flow of food," one retail expert noted.
    • Consider retaining an independent food safety expert/firm that will audit foodservice suppliers and stores randomly.
    • Consider conducting "food incident crisis drills" to determine how effectively the company responds.

    While it has been said many times before, food safety and building a food safety culture require an uncompromising commitment to foodservice from the very top of the organization. Management must provide adequate resources at the store level, regional and district levels and headquarters to "assure that the adopted food safety system procedures and required compliance tasks can be fully executed, either by the company management staff or by outside contractors," said Minno.

    And training doesn't happen just once — new employees must be trained, but existing employees must be re-trained and trainers recertified. There should also be systems in place to train all employees when new items or product lines are introduced, which details how they should be handled safely.


     

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