The human cost of foodborne illnesses is alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year 1 in 6 Americans, or approximately 48 million people, get sick from contaminated food or beverages. Of these, 128,000 are hospitalized. Tragically, 3,000 lose their lives. These statistics serve as a stark reminder of the critical importance of maintaining rigorous food safety standards. Each case represents a person whose illness could have been prevented with proper food safety practices.
Beyond the human toll, the financial repercussions of food safety negligence can be devastating for a business. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report estimated the cost of illnesses at over $17 billion annually. This staggering figure includes direct healthcare expenses associated with treating foodborne illnesses, such as hospital stays, doctor visits, and medications. The costs don’t stop there. Lost productivity, both from workers who fall ill and from those who must care for sick family members, further adds to the economic impact. This includes not only lost wages but also lost revenue for businesses when sick employees are unable to work.
Food recalls and restaurant closures resulting from food safety violations lead to significant financial losses, often including the direct costs of the recall, lost sales, litigation costs, and fines. Perhaps even more damaging in the long term is the impact on a restaurant’s reputation. Once a restaurant has been associated with a foodborne illness outbreak, winning back customer trust is often a steep uphill battle.
In the face of such significant potential losses, investing in proactive food safety practices is not just a good idea—it’s a business imperative. By prioritizing food safety, restaurants protect their customers’ health, safeguard their own reputation, and secure their financial future. It’s a win-win situation that underscores the power of prevention in maintaining food safety.
Five Proactive Food Safety Practices
Implementing proactive food safety practices prevents foodborne illnesses, protects your brand reputation, and saves costs associated with food safety incidents. Here are five practices that should be at the core of your food safety strategy:
1. Regular Employee Training: Employee training doesn’t end with onboarding; that’s when it begins. Ongoing training is a critical component of a proactive food safety strategy. It ensures that all employees, from kitchen staff to servers, are up to date on the latest food safety guidelines and procedures. This includes understanding proper food handling techniques, such as washing hands thoroughly before handling food and avoiding cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods. Training should also cover safe food storage and preparation methods, including maintaining the correct temperatures for different types of food. Regular refreshers are essential to keep this knowledge top of mind and to update staff on any changes in food safety regulations or best practices.
2. Strict Adherence to Cleaning and Sanitation Protocols: Maintaining a clean and sanitary environment is crucial in preventing the growth and spread of harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. This involves regular cleaning and sanitation of all kitchen areas, including countertops, cutting boards, and utensils. Equipment such as ovens, grills, and refrigerators should also be regularly cleaned and maintained. Employees should be trained in the correct use of cleaning and sanitizing agents, and cleaning schedules should be strictly adhered to.
3. Proper Food Storage: Proper storage of food items is another essential aspect of food safety. Proper refrigeration and freezing temperatures are critical. Appropriate food storage is also necessary for the prevention of cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods, which occurs when these foods are stored together without proper separation. Employee training must cover safe food storage practices, including the correct order for storing different types of food in the refrigerator and the importance of using airtight containers.
4. Careful Food Labeling: Proper food labeling is an often overlooked but crucial aspect of food safety, especially in a busy multi-unit restaurant environment. Labels provide essential information such as the type of food, its source, preparation date, and use-by date. This helps to ensure that food is used while it’s still fresh and reduces the risk of serving expired or spoiled food. Labels are also used to identify potential allergens, which is critical for protecting customers with food allergies. In the case of pre-prepared or packaged foods, labels provide important information about the ingredients and nutritional content. In a well-organized kitchen, every item, from raw ingredients to prepared dishes, should be clearly labeled. This not only contributes to food safety but also aids in efficient kitchen operations.
5. Leverage Food Safety Technology: In today’s digital age, technology plays a crucial role in enhancing food safety. Digital food safety solutions help streamline food safety procedures, making them more efficient and less prone to human error. For example, digital temperature monitoring systems provide real-time data on food storage temperatures, alerting staff if temperatures fall outside of safe ranges. Digital checklists help to ensure that all food safety tasks are completed accurately and on time. Digital record-keeping systems make it easier to track compliance with food safety regulations and to provide evidence of compliance during health inspections. By embracing these technologies, restaurants embrace a proactive approach to food safety that is both effective and efficient.
Bonus Tip: The Critical Role of Temperature in Food Safety
To ensure food safety, proper temperatures must be maintained both in storage and during cooking. Hot and cold foods need to be kept at specific temperatures to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Refrigerated items should be kept at or below 40°F and frozen food at or below 0°F. Different foods require different internal temperatures to ensure they are safe to eat, and this must be carefully monitored at all times. For example, poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F, while steaks and roasts should reach at least 145°F.
Manual temperature checks, whether for storage or cooking, are time-consuming and prone to human error. Digital solutions boost accuracy and efficiency. Digital temperature monitoring systems provide real-time temperature data, send alerts when temperatures fall outside of safe ranges, and provide historical temperature data for compliance purposes. These platforms monitor both storage and cooking temperatures, ensuring that food is stored and prepared safely. For instance, they alert staff if a refrigerator’s temperature rises above the safe limit, allowing for quick corrective action. Similarly, they ensure that food is cooked to the correct internal temperature, reducing the risk of serving undercooked food that could potentially cause foodborne illness. By automating these checks, digital solutions significantly reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses caused by improper food temperatures and boost accuracy and efficiency at multi-unit restaurant companies.
AuditApp: Your Partner in Proactive Food Safety
AuditApp by MeazureUp is a digital field assessment tool that significantly enhances food safety practices. It allows managers to conduct audits complete with pictures, comments, and corrective action plans, replacing paper/Excel assessment forms and sparing them the hours required to manually type up reports. From automated inspection forms to informative analytics, AuditApp’s mobile solution provides everything you need to manage food safety and so much more at your enterprise.
Ready to see how AuditApp can transform your food safety practices across your locations? Schedule a demo today.