If you’re responsible for food safety for a large restaurant chain, then you know that regulations are not consistent across the nation. Instead, You may have to juggle federal, state, and local guidelines, which can be quite a burden.
So, rather than trying to meet dozens of minimum compliance rules, which is a reactive approach, a better plan is to institute your own set of internal best practices that you know will always meet, or better yet, exceed regulations. Taking this proactive strategy helps you avoid the risks of foodborne illness and protect your brand.
Establish effective Good Retail Practices (GRP).
The first step is to establish universal Good Retail Practices. This is a highly proactive way to assure that your food products are not contaminated by biological, chemical, or physical hazards. These practices should cover all operations, from receiving, storing, and preparing, to holding, packaging, and serving. The benefits of adopting GRPs include:
Promoting uniformity of standards across all your facilities
Providing effective controls at each stage of your operations
Protecting customers from the risk of foodborne illness
Conduct a Gap Analysis.
So how do you establish what GRPs you need for your restaurant chain? That’s where a Gap Analysis comes in. It helps you identify your primary areas of concern so that you know your risks—and can correct the problems that cause them. In assessing GRPs, two things to keep in mind are to look for trends, rather than isolated incidents, and to target your weakest areas first. Then, once you’ve identified your hazards, you can then begin to control them.
For example, consider the equipment and tools that employees use everyday. Important questions to ask:
Are they adequate?
Do they work as intended?
Are they properly cleaned and sanitized?
Do your devices take accurate temperature readings of food stored in refrigerators, makelines, and holding cases?
Do employees know how to use them, as well as why they are important to food safety and the health of your customers?
Train your employees.
GRPs are only as good as the team implementing them. That’s why training is such an imperative investment. General managers should be thoroughly trained and should pass their knowledge onto their employees. Employees must be given the time and resources to put their training into practice. And most important, they need to understand the “WHY?” of food safety—especially the costly consequences of foodborne illness.
Make it real: Incorporate food safety topics as part of your daily conversations. It’s important to reiterate to your staff that 1 in 6 Americans get sick from foodborne illness annually. Translate that into actual numbers: 48 million people, of which 125,000 will be hospitalized, and 3,000 will die due to foodborne illness. Emphasize the consumer consequences as much as the monetary and brand consequences.
Develop mandatory handwashing practices. Handwashing is one of the most frequently cited violations in health inspection reports. Train staff to make sure that they wash their hands regularly while handling food, to keep handwashing supplies well-stocked at all times, and to establish a basin dedicated purely for handwashing. A lack of handwashing can lead to cross-contamination as well as the spread of viruses, like Norovirus. It’s also important to enforce a no tolerance policy in regards to showing up to work while ill.
Finally, hold employees accountable once they’re trained. Establish metrics that clearly set expectations and monitor behavior regularly to ensure compliance. But also, don’t forget to keep employees motivated. A good way to do that is to request their input and be open to changes they suggest.
Become your own food safety advocate.
State and local regulations are intended to meet only minimum requirements. By conducting a Gap Analysis, establishing optimal GRPs, and training your employees, you don’t have to settle for the status quo. Instead, you can create a safe food culture for your restaurant chain based on a mindset of prevention rather than reaction.
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