Food Safety is On Everyone’s Mind

With so much attention focused on Chipotle’s outbreaks of e. coli and norovirus, now might be a good time for the entire food industry to take a long, hard look at their safety standards.

Is your company doing enough to protect the safety of your customers? Do you feel confident that you could pass a surprise safety inspection tomorrow?

I have a love-hate relationship with reading about which local restaurants have failed safety inspections, and the ridiculous reasons why. I think as with so many areas of life, it’s easy to get complacent and do something unsafe or unhealthy when you’re in a hurry. The problem is that in the food and beverage industry, one bad decision can lead to a lot of sick customers!

Beyond the risk to your customers’ health, a bad incident can have a lingering impact on your business. Even if you learn from your mistake and never have another incident, your reputation with customers, potential investors and your local business community can suffer. Even your most loyal customers may find themselves looking elsewhere after a really bad bout of food poisoning, or a bad report from the health inspector. It’s incredibly important for the longevity of your food business to ensure that you do everything possible to avoid an outbreak of food-borne illness or another health-related disaster.

Take the time to review your current safety procedures and see if they need any updates – and, while you’re at it, if any of your equipment needs updating or repairs! Give your employees a refresher course on your safety policies. And don’t think that you get a free pass if you’re a one-person operation. Refresh yourself on safety guidelines, too.

Beyond just refreshing everyone’s training, you want to instill a culture of safety into your company. From reminders in your internal communications to helpful signage in your kitchen or production facility, there are many ways to provide regular reminders of your standards. You can even consider getting your whole team involved — host a contest for the best safety slogan, or most clever poster design. People are more likely to have safety on their mind if you make it fun and rewarding.

You may find that you need to change your safety guidelines if your company has under gone any major changes – growth, moving to a new facility, or adding a new product line are all milestones that may require a new approach to safety.

As with so many situations, it may be beneficial to bring in an outside consultant. You don’t have to be on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares to have someone come in and assess how you’re handling things. Even a well-run kitchen can usually use a few improvements, and it’s worth the price for the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’re doing the absolute best for your customers.

Once you feel confident that you’re running a tight ship, talk to your marketing department about how you can leverage this knowledge. A few Instagram snaps of your sparkling clean kitchen or production facility may not go awry, or the casual mention of a recent “A” grade from the health and safety inspectors. Some of my favorite local Mexican restaurants shamelessly leveraged Chiptole’s recent half-day closing with some daily specials. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to reference your competition, or just let your own reputation shine on its own.

-AJ

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