Whether you’re a convenience store (c-store) operator, quick-service restaurant (QSR), or a fast casual or fine dining establishment, ensuring food quality and safety is imperative to your success. In this blog, the second of a three-part series based on a recent E360 article, Minimizing Food Safety Risks From Farm to Fork, we explore the environmental factors and conditions putting food at risk as well as the food safety regulatory landscape.
About one in six Americans contracts a foodborne illness every year. That’s 48 million people, or roughly the population of the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas metropolitan areas combined.
For a restaurant or c-store, a single outbreak of foodborne illness can result in thousands (or even millions) of dollars in fines. Add to that the potential for damage to your brand, and it can easily take years to recover from an incident.
The challenge for foodservice operators is that they are stationed at the end of a very long cold chain. That’s why it’s essential for them to understand how and where food safety and quality are most at risk. Armed with this knowledge, they will be better positioned to ensure that food is safe upon receipt.
Multiple factors put food safety at risk
From production and processing to transportation and cold storage, it can take days or even weeks for food to journey from farms to kitchens. At every point in that process, food safety can be compromised.
Harvesting practices can accelerate food spoilage. Improper processing and unsafe handling can introduce bacterial pathogens, such as E. coli and listeria, into the cold chain. Cross-contamination during shipping, storage and handling can amplify the risk of foodborne illness.
Unsurprisingly, temperature also plays a major — and sometimes overlooked — role in food safety. Optimal temperature ranges for produce, meats, dairy and frozen foods must be strictly maintained throughout the cold chain to preserve food quality. Deviations at any point can be an invitation for bacterial growth, not to mention a shorter shelf life.
Of course, operators have no control over how food is handled or stored prior to receipt. But that doesn’t make them any less susceptible to bad headlines should an outbreak occur under their watch. What they can and should do is meticulously review data logs prior to receipt to ensure the shipments were maintained at optimal conditions. And until the food is sold to a customer, operators must continue to ensure they are following safe food storage and handling practices in their own kitchens.
Managing regulatory expectations
With so much at stake, it’s easy to see why foodservice is such a tightly regulated industry. For restaurants and c-stores, though, this means an ever-higher bar on food safety and quality standards. As a result, operators must understand and navigate a new landscape of transparency and traceability. This is especially true as the regulatory focus increasingly shifts from reactive measures to proactive prevention. Going forward, operators at all links in the cold chain can expect greater requirements for monitoring and documenting food safety.
But there’s good news for foodservice operators: technology is on their side. Advances in refrigeration science, increased automation and the rise of internet of things (IoT) technologies are making it easier than ever to manage, maintain and monitor consistent temperature controls within the cold chain. Moreover, with more data available, operators have greater visibility into the conditions their food was subjected to on its long journey. As a result, they will be less “in the dark” about the products they stake their brands on.
We’ll explore this further in our next blog, which will focus on the cold chain journey and the technologies that are putting improved food safety within reach.