Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Economics of Food Safety

By Francine L. Shaw

America’s food industry has a $55.5 billion safety problem annually, as recently reported by Fortune Magazine. This includes foodborne illnesses at convenience stores and restaurants, food recalls and other food safety issues.

The price can be steep. A 2015 study by Robert Scharff, an associate professor at Ohio State University, estimated that foodborne illnesses cost more than $55.5 billion per year in medical treatment, lost productivity and illness in the U.S.
Each year 48 million Americans become sick from foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Therefore, investing in food safety is one of the smartest things c-stores can do. The expense, time and energy necessary to implement— or elevate—your food safety protocols won’t be overwhelming, and it’s crucial to your business success.
Last May, nacho cheese sold at a California convenience store was linked to a botulism outbreak that sickened 10 people and killed one. The convenience store temporarily lost its food and drink permit—resulting in lost revenue—amid the ensuing investigation.
Earlier this year, approximately 2,000 7-Eleven customers in West Jordan, Utah were exposed to hepatitis A, due to an infected 7-Eleven employee who had gone to work and handled the c-store’s food while sick.
Having a foodborne illness incident or outbreak can result in decreased revenues, hefty legal fees, potential lawsuits, diminished sales (and loyalty) from guests afraid to visit the (possibly contaminated) store, and a damaged reputation that could permanently shut your doors.
Food safety should be part of your company’s culture. Everyone—on every shift— should be trained in proper food safety protocols.
TECHNOLOGY CAN HELPNew technological solutions can now enhance food safety protocols and make it faster, more accurate and more efficient to conduct inventory, auditing, and training.
Sensors ensure foods are being held at proper temperatures. Centralized, continuous refrigeration monitoring systems signal when temperatures in the store’s coolers or freezers rise above safe holding temperatures, eliminating the need to throw away entire coolers or freezers of food due to improperly working units.
Innovative digital tools can now be used for c-stores’ internal auditing systems, which is a more efficient, cost-effective and accurate solution versus the pen and paper methods often used in the foodservice industry.
Many companies now provide downloadable apps that enhance the way foodservice employees conduct inspections, keep temperature logs, conduct training, manage QA forms, access food code information and more. Now, critical food safety data can be at employees’ fingertips.
Operational efficiencies have been proven to improve stores’ bottom line. Eliminating pen and paper line checks can save $250-$600 per year per store, smart sensors that prevent food spoilage can save $1,100 per episode, and reducing food and labor costs can save $4,700 per year per store, according to a recent CoInspect survey. Further, CoInspect experts said the ROI on in-store technical solutions can be as high as $10,000-$15,000 per year for c-stores with foodservice capabilities. Digital tools can help with brand protection and quality assurance concerns by optimizing and improving line checks, shift logs, inspections, auditing and other reporting.
There’s a widespread “pencil whipping” problem in the foodservice industry, where employees using paper record systems falsify records or “cheat” on their processes, which digital tools eliminate through real-time data collection, and visual records using photos and videos.
Technology that can help minimize labor, reduce (or eliminate) foodborne illness risks and minimize food waste is not an expense, it’s an important investment.
Often, c-store owner/operators will tell me, “I can’t afford to make the investment.” My response is always, “You can’t afford not to.”
Francine Shaw is president of Savvy Food Safety Inc. and has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, iHeartRadio, Food Safety News and Food Management Magazine.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Foodborne Illnesses and Recalls on the Rise

By Francine L. Shaw
The last word a manufacturer wants to hear is “recall”. During 2017, recalls involved everything from salad mix contaminated with a dead bat to hash browns infused with shredded golf balls.
Not all recalls are created equal. Both the USDA and the FDA have three classifications of recalls to indicate the relative degree of health hazard presented by the product being recalled:
  • Class I: A Class I recall is the most serious classification, involving a health hazard situation in which there is a reasonable probability that eating the food will cause health problems or death.
  • Class II: A Class II recall involves a potential health hazard situation in which there is a remote probability of adverse health consequences from eating the food.
  • Class III: A Class III recall involves a situation in which eating the food will not cause adverse health consequences.
During 2017, there were 456 recalls recorded in the United States. The number one reason for those recalls was undeclared allergens.
Foodborne illnesses continue to be widespread, as well. In 2017, we saw Robin Hood flour contaminated with E.coli, Soygo yogurt with Listeria, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and ground turkey tainted with Salmonella, and even shredded coconut was responsible for causing a Salmonella outbreak in the United States and Canada. Foodborne illness outbreaks can happen at restaurants, corporate events, private parties, schools and cruise ships—anywhere and everywhere food is served.
Recalls and foodborne illnesses are 100% preventable. Incidents occur because of human error, and all it takes is one weak link to cause serious—and potentially fatal—problems. That’s it. One weak link can cause the traumatic deaths and/or illnesses of customers, and cost your company billions of dollars, loss of sales, plummeting stocks, negative media coverage and a severely damaged reputation.
When there’s a recall or a foodborne illness, products must be destroyed, which is lost revenue for manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, etc. Finding the source of the contamination can be a massive undertaking. The manufacturer may need to close all of their plants for cleaning until the source is identified, which adds up to a tremendous financial burden, and also requires significant time and effort. Class 1 recalls can cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more, to identify the source of contamination, recall products, sanitize facilities, and keep consumers safe.
It takes years for companies to establish a solid reputation, and food recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks can obliterate a brand’s reputation overnight. Consumers lose confidence much faster than they gain it, and bad news travels fast (especially in this time of social media where news spreads instantly and widely). And on top of that, there may be litigation as a result of the recall, incident or outbreak, which will result in attorney fees and potential settlements that could be very significant. If the risk of massive expense and bankruptcy isn’t enough, for the past few years, the U.S. District of Justice has been issuing fines and prison terms to company leaders involved in foodborne illnesses outbreaks and food recalls.
The government, media and general public are holding companies (and their leadership) accountable now, so you’d think that recalls and foodborne illness incidents would be on the decline but, unfortunately, that’s not the case. And with advancements in technology, why are we still having so many issues surrounding the safety of our food?
Many media outlets report that foodborne illnesses have been rising considerably in the past few years. However, according to the CDC, a study showed that the six most common foodborne illnesses have actually declined in frequency by 25% over the last two decades. Having said that, though, the severity of foodborne illness outbreaks seems to be increasing, and the number of outbreaks connected to produce has risen, as well. Some experts believe the increases may be due to better reporting processes rather than an actual increase in the number of foodborne illnesses.
There are various theories as to why foodborne illnesses may be getting worse. Some government agencies indicate it has to do with farming policies. The CDC disagrees. More widely accepted beliefs are the increase in popularity of organic produce—grown with manure rather than chemical fertilizer—which can transfer bacteria to the produce. Additionally, there’s debate that the use of antibiotics can cause bacteria that causes foodborne illnesses to become resistant.
Recalls may occur for a variety of reasons. Products may be pushed beyond their shelf life by the manufacturer, or maybe the design and development around the product was insufficient (equipment, building, etc.). Is the manufacturing facility designed in a manner that can prevent contamination—structurally and hygienically? Maybe the production quality control checks failed. Did the manufacturer conduct an adequate food safety risk assessment prior to launching the new product? Profit margins are often thin—did financial incentives prevent the company from implementing a thorough food safety program?
Getting back to the basics of food safety would reduce recalls and foodborne illnesses significantly. Manufacturers must be certain about food safety as well as the integrity of the ingredients they use. They need to be honest with themselves and understand the risks of the ingredients, processes and finished products that they are handling.
Human error is a given. It’s the corporation’s responsibility to minimize the risk. Implement ongoing food safety education and training for all employees, explaining the proper food safety protocols and processes. Develop internal auditing systems, using innovative digital tools. Get rid of the pen and paper forms, where it’s more likely for errors to occur and for pencil whipping to happen. Digital solutions provide more effective internal auditing, meticulousness in corrective action systems including root cause analysis, allergen management, and controls relating to packing product into the correct packaging format—all fundamental to keeping foods, consumers and businesses healthy and safe.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Touchy Feely Restaurant Screens Covered with Creepy Crawlies

Francine L. Shaw, Contributor
Restaurants are increasingly moving from clipboards and pens to digital technology. And they should. These digital tools streamline and simplify multiple processes – from taking customers’ orders to facilitating inspections.
But now, patrons and staff are likely to touch – and share – multiple screens. Whether your host is sending a text about an open table or a server is completing a sale, your team must commit to consistent, thorough “clean screen” procedures.
Preventative measures, like wearing and changing single-use gloves regularly, are among best practices, but they’re only the beginning.  Digital-friendly sanitizing wipes should be easily accessible and regularly used. Sanitation schedules should be established for shared screens – similar to schedules for cleaning other equipment. Whatever the strategy, a regular sanitizing regimen is essential for a healthy, code-abiding establishment.
Washing hands saves lives.  Many hands are sharing tools, devices, surfaces, and germs in restaurants, and germs can spread fast through contact with these items.
Increasingly, restaurants and other foodservice organizations are relying on mobile technologies, such as POS systems, tablet menus, and remote card payment machines. Mobile devices are also being used to manage food prep and safety in accordance with inspection regulations.
While these devices offer multiple benefits – increased efficiency, accuracy, etc. – they may also carry some risk. Think about it: everyone involved in the experience of dining out runs the risk of sharing screens and, therefore, sharing germs. Screens constantly get shared among employees – and customers – during shifts.
How dirty do screens get? Scientists have found that the average cell phone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat. Major pathogens, like Streptococcus, MRSA, and E. Coli have routinely been found on electronic screens. Passing these dirty devices around spreads the germs and bacteria to hands – and then, potentially, to other surfaces.
“Research says your phone is covered in germs: 25,107 bacteria per square inch to be exact. That makes your cell phone one of the filthiest objects you touch,” explained Francine L. Shaw, food safety expert and president of Savvy Food Safety Inc.
“With advances in technology, cell phones are consistently being utilized to execute food safety strategies throughout the foodservice industry. This is especially true for the leaders in the industry that have implemented this advanced technology to enhance their company’s food safety culture.”
So, how can restaurants successfully keep its screens germ-free? Here are three simple steps every restaurant should consider.
Step 1: Clean everything“Technology is the way of the future. So how do you keep your phone clean? First and foremost, wash your hands,” Shaw explained. “Then clean and disinfect your cell phone by using a combination of 60 percent water and 40 percent rubbing alcohol. Mix the ingredients together, then dip a soft cloth – don’t use a paper towel, it may scratch the screen – in the solution and wipe the damp cloth gently across your phone.”
“Apple warns against using anything other than a soft cloth on your screen, but, let’s face it, a soft cloth isn’t getting rid of any germs,” Shaw added. “Personally, I love technology – there are many UV lights on the market that will destroy surface bacteria. Regardless of the method you choose, clean your phone frequently. And, keep it out of the restroom!”
We tell food service employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom and, hopefully, they all comply. But think about the hundreds of patrons visiting a restaurant daily. And what about employees coming on-shift to work while, inevitably, carrying their germy phones?  If they touch surfaces in the restaurant before washing their hands, they can transfer germs to these items.
In family restaurants, children tend to touch everything in sight.  I’ve seen toddlers who picked their nose or licked their fingers and then touched the table, doorknob, etc.  And now that screens are more common in restaurants – used for everything from reviewing online menus to paying bills via a shared tablet – it’s critical that every screen in your establishment gets regularly (and properly) disinfected.
The solution: identify every device that has a screen and wipe it down. A tried-and-true product, like Windex Electronic Wipes, can work wonders for getting germs off a variety of electronic screens. It’s an all-purpose product that every restaurant should have on hand and insist that employees use regularly and often.
Though the food code no longer allows personal cell phones in kitchens, staff often use them before shifts and during breaks. Encourage employees to wipe their personal phones to prevent contamination.  Additionally, require them to wash their hands after using their mobile devices and before touching food, surfaces and/or equipment.
Step 2: Make a scheduleYour restaurant employees schedule their shifts and tickets. Tables get wiped down before changing patrons. But is there currently a schedule in your restaurant for when a POS system gets disinfected?  If not, there should be.
No one should have to wonder when a screen was last wiped down. A simple checklist will do. Cleaning products should be available in the main dining areas. If your restaurant isn’t looking to take up too much space with a box of screen wipes, consider a Microfiber Teraglove. It’s small, compact, and can fit anywhere.
Step 3: Sanitize screensRestaurants are busy places. Not every job gets done according to schedule especially during hectic shifts. But, just like the kitchen and washing staff make sure the prep areas and cutlery are sanitized, the same must be done for all digital screens in your restaurant.
At the end of each shift, have the staff focus more intentionally, and more thoroughly, on cleaning all of the restaurant’s mobile devices. A heavy-duty product with a reputation for being effective, like Tech Armor, provides a full kit of microfiber wipes and cleaning solution. By disinfecting the surface of each screen, you’ll significantly limit the potential for germs and the associated risk of illnesses.
Bottom lineRestaurant leadership requires its employees to wash their hands after using the restrooms.  Teams must follow specific protocols around cleaning dishes, utensils and kitchen equipment. Surfaces should be regularly disinfected, and restrooms scrubbed on schedule.
Another best practice would be to wipe down all shared surfaces and not just screens. For servers, tables and counters are more obvious, but what about menus, napkin holders, and condiment dispensers. A great opening practice is to wipe down these commonly touched components of the restaurant experience.
If you’re not regularly cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting your screens, you’re putting your staff and guests at an increased risk of spreading germs and contracting some pretty miserable illnesses. Create specific protocols around cleaning your screens to increase the health and safety of your facility, employees, and guests.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Putting Safety First in Foodservice

Francine L. Shaw, Contributor  |   Convenience Store News

NATIONAL REPORT — Fifteen years ago, La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc. had just begun to transform its foodservice offering from a roller grill-based program to a full-fledged initiative, which would eventually be honored as Convenience Store News' Foodservice Innovator of the Year in 2015. From the onset, Kwik Trip CEO Don Zietlow pinpointed a potential occurrence that could have devastating effects on the convenience store chain: a foodborne illness.

That early foresight led Kwik Trip to build a culture of food safety that incorporates training at all levels of the organization — something every convenience store that offers prepared food should imitate, according to industry experts. When it comes from the top, safety is more likely to be a key component and not an afterthought.

"When your CEO says this is an issue that could destroy our company, it puts it high on people's radar that we need to follow food safety principles and food safety programs," said Marty Putz, director of food safety and quality assurance for Kwik Trip, operator of 600-plus stores.

To instill food safety knowledge at all levels, Kwik Trip re-examined how it handles training and staff promotion. All employees receive computer-based training, and those who are ready to move up the management ladder get the opportunity for hands-on development. Instead of moving directly up to shift leader, they are moved into the role of foodservice leader, in which they take responsibility for the kitchen. Experience with food and food safety is a fundamental part of the leadership journey at Kwik Trip, not an alternative path.

Individuals who pursue multi-store leadership roles, such as district roles, get even more food safety training on a broader level. Through a combination of classroom study and hands-on training, future leaders learn to audit stores from a safety perspective, and they go through ServSafe food safety training and certification.

The result is a cadre of leadership with extensive food safety knowledge, according to Putz.

While the training needs of small operators and single stores in the convenience store industry may not need to be as complex as Kwik Trip, size doesn't make a difference in a retailer's ability to build a safe, trustworthy foodservice program.

"It’s not necessary to be a large corporation or have a multitude of financial resources to create a food safety culture," said Francine Shaw, president of Food Safety Training Solutions Inc. "It begins with a desire to serve safe food."

Shaw recommends that c-stores with more limited resources prioritize creating a personal hygiene standard for employees and implementing a pest management program. They should also develop standard operating procedures for purchasing, receiving, storing, cooking, cooling, reheating, holding and serving food; cleaning and sanitizing equipment; and cleaning the facility's interior and exterior.

C-store retailers of all sizes should also be mindful of the fact that in 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began shifting its food safety focus from reaction to prevention, holding retailers accountable for compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

"The FSMA calls for food retailers to establish preventive control systems modeled after HACCP [Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points] guidelines to help prevent foodborne illnesses,” explained Jordan Anderson of ParTech Inc., a provider of restaurant and retail hardware, software and services. “It also mandates that the FDA has access to at least two years of documentation showing adherence to this new protocol. If you are a food retailer and the FDA comes knocking at your door, what do you have to show them?"

One of the most impactful ways of achieving food safety is also one of the simplest: Employees must be diligent about washing their hands.

"One of the most common food safety-related issues is personal hygiene. Don’t misunderstand me; some organizations do a fantastic job of training their team members. Others just don’t seem to understand the importance. Personal hygiene is so very basic, yet so very essential," Shaw said.

She recommends implementing a double handwashing policy. "Wash once in the restroom and again when returning to the workstation. After all, employees are touching the doorknobs that everyone prior to them touched and who may not have washed their hands," she pointed out. "Did you know the average door handle has about 360 types of bacteria on it?"

On the opposite end of the complexity spectrum, advances in technology are making it easier to avoid safety lapses — or to identify them once they occur. Wireless technology now enables continuous monitoring of coolers, freezers, and heating units. Digital records make it easier to access and organize crucial food safety information. There are also solutions that cater to the changing needs of foodservice operators.

“While some retailers prefer pen and paper records because that's what they're comfortable with, industry experts warn that this method has major drawbacks, such as increased risk of personal error and inefficiency of data that can't be searched or easily manipulated.”

"Paper records are easy to use (though sometimes they are difficult to locate in emergencies) and change is a process — it takes time," Shaw said. "However, major industries, including c-stores, should embrace technology to elevate the way they track inventory, manage machines, record and organize data, increase efficiency, save costs, and even save lives."

Even after investing in the best safety protocols and the most thorough training, it's possible a retailer will still face a safety incident, such as exposure to a foodborne illness that can be traced back to their store. How they respond could make or break consumers' continued trust in the brand.

The most effective response involves appropriate public messaging, as well as taking the proper steps to determine how the incident happened and how it can be avoided in the future.

Shaw recommends creating honest, authentic and apologetic messaging that describes the situation and explains a solutions-focused plan for moving forward. It is in the retailer's best interest to be straightforward with the media in identifying what happened and where there was a breakdown in safety, whether it happened on the vendor side or at the store, she said.

"It’s important that someone in a position of authority monitors social media and responds to negative and/or erroneous comments. Don’t get defensive and don’t get sucked into toxic, negative message spirals," Shaw advised. "Stay on message, remain positive, and explain how the company is working to fix the situation."

Meanwhile, the retailer should re-train employees on safety protocols, change vendors if necessary and, above all, stay calm. Once the crisis has passed, it's time to discuss what went wrong, how it could have been prevented, and how it can be prevented in the future.

Kwik Trip’s Putz encourages working with regulatory authorities that are responsible for public safety, as their concerns go hand-in-hand. On a store level, Kwik Trip requires employees to report any symptoms they exhibit. This information is entered into an electronic log.

"It is still self-reporting, but it's a way to exclude [employees] and get them out of the kitchen and away from food when they're high-risk," Putz said.

Kwik Trip views food safety as an ongoing activity with a continual improvement process. The retailer is always asking: What can we improve on next? What can we get better at?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Opinion: Kitchen Design and Safety

By Francine L. Shaw  |  Published January 17, 2018, on  |  Published worldwide

Francine L. Shaw of Savvy Food Safety Solutions, Inc. addresses how the design of a commercial kitchen should maximise efficiency and productivity, while also promoting proper food safety protocols

When designing a commercial kitchen, many people are concerned with how the space will look, but they should be primarily concerned with how it will function. The design should maximise efficiency and productivity, while also promoting proper food safety protocols.

Design flaws

During kitchen design/construction projects, collaborate with a food safety expert, who can advise on how the space can boost food safety practices. Recognise that design flaws could have negative ramifications that could harm – or even kill – your guests. Think of food safety when planning the space – e.g., ensuring that floor mixers aren’t placed near wash sinks, where dirty water could splash in and contaminate the food. Also, when servers take food to your guests, they shouldn’t have to walk through the dirty dish area, which increases contamination risk.

Follow these tips for a safer commercial kitchen:

  • Plan the flow. The flow of your kitchen should be efficient and support food safety protocols. This will save time, money, and reduce risk.
  • Purchase equipment that’s easy to clean, with minimal nooks and crannies. This is important for all kitchen equipment, including mixers, fryers, ice cream machines, meat slicers, etc.
  • Consider even the smallest details. Don’t leave gaps between counters and walls that could attract grime, insects or rodents. Be certain that you utilize grout that can be properly cleaned and sanitized.
  • Ensure that your floors have drains so they can be deep cleaned regularly.
  • Make certain areas that are impossible to reach for cleaning are sealed tightly. It is impossible for anyone to clean a ¼ in. gap between a wall and a counter space that the contractor neglected to close. This will eventually become an insect or rodent haven – and a food safety hazard.
  • Ensure that your hot water tanks hold a sufficient amount of hot water. If they don’t hold enough hot water to get you through your busiest rush period of washing and sanitizing dishes, you either need to get a booster or a larger hot water tank. Hot water is critical to proper washing and sanitising dishes, equipment and hands.
  • Consider the placement of your sinks. Kitchen sinks must never be in an area where there’s potential for contaminated water to splash on consumables, clean dishes, or anything else it could contaminate. In tight areas, a barrier may need to be installed between the sink and a prep area.
  • Install multiple sinks for washing dishes, produce, hands, etc.
  • Designate separate prep space for allergen-free/gluten-free cooking to safely accommodate your guests with food allergies and intolerances.
  • Designate allergy-friendly equipment – such as fryers – that are not used for any common allergens, including breaded products, fish or shellfish, or foods containing nuts. Purple is widely used and recognised to designate allergy-friendly equipment.
  • Design separate storage space for common food allergens (flours, nuts, etc.) to avoid cross-contact with allergy-friendly foods.

By following these guidelines, your team can maximise successes and minimise food safety risks.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Rotten Documentary Series Addresses Food With A New Perspective

By Susan Algeo  |  Published February 2018 on

While watching the new Netflix documentary series Rotten, created by Zero Point Zero Production, I learned some interesting things, such as: Did you know that that selling raw milk in retail locations is illegal in most states? Or that there is a garlic festival every year in Gilroy, California? Or that honey is basically just bee vomit?? Or that Russia invading Crimea affects the milk profits in the United States? The series shows an interesting view on the food world.

The series interviewed many people to get various perceptive on certain food-related topics. They talked to workers, business owners, consumers, chefs, doctors, researchers, attorneys, all with varying degrees of experience. Most of the time, I think it is good to hear different perspectives. But, sometimes, certain viewpoints can be detrimental to consumers. The best example of this was in the episode “Milk Money.” One of the main points of discussion was the sale of raw milk. Since raw milk is more profitable than pasteurized milk, some dairy farmers have added that to the products they provide (even in some of the states where this is illegal). These farmers talk about raw milk being safer that it was in the past due to cleaner farms, cleaner cows and cleaner workers. They also tell viewers that there are health benefits to consuming raw milk. Although research shows the risk of consuming raw milk is still too high due to possible contamination that can lead to foodborne illnesses.Over the past few years, we have seen an increased interest in food production, and people want to know where their food is coming from. Local, organic, grass fed; these are all key words that consumers look for on their packages. The public is watching cooking shows on the Food Network and other mainstream TV channels: competitions like Hell’s Kitchen, inspection and planning shows like Bar Rescue, and documentaries like Food, Inc. are how the general population is getting their food education. We know there is a lack of food safety education on these shows, which is a huge concern, as viewers may mimic their favorite celebrity chefs’ habits in their own kitchens. (How often do you see celebrity chefs properly wash their hands or use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of foods?) Although Rotten does not focus much on food safety, it does examine the farm-to-fork production of different products. It also discusses various regulations that govern these items from the growers and producers to the chefs and consumers.
On the other side of the foodborne illness discussion, the episode also talks to a family that experienced a food safety fail when their young son contracted e-coli raw milk, which led to hemolytic uremic syndrome. Although I value the experience those dairy farmers have, as a food safety professional, I can only hope that viewers will understand the very real risks of consuming raw milk – as evidenced by the child that was featured, who fell ill and will have lifelong consequences from his foodborne illness incident. It’s important the message around the risks of consuming of raw milk is heard.
Also addressed in the series is the topic of food fraud and adulteration. These are topics that are likely unfamiliar to much of the general population, so it is very important to bring these issues to light. In the episode “Lawyers, Guns & Honey,” they discuss how pure honey is being cut with syrups to increase the volume, and profits, of the product. Honey is sent to labs to for quality tests but, as usually happens, once one type of syrup is detected, people will find another (e.g., corn) that is not detectable. Laboratory scientists were interviewed to explain their process for testing. Also interviewed were the lawyers that prosecuted a German company for illegally selling Chinese honey in America. Two executives were sentenced to time in federal prison because of their actions. I’m sure many viewers would be surprised to learn that this type of situation, from adulteration to jail time for food fraud, is happening.
Every episode of Rotten addresses different products and the issues their industry faces. These are some of the interesting take-a-ways from each episode:
  • Lawyers, Guns & Honey –A queen bee can lay twice her body weight in eggs a day.
  • The Peanut Problem – The National Peanut Board funds considerable food allergy research in hopes of finding allergy cures or treatments.
  • Garlic Breath – In China, it is illegal to export garlic that was peeled by prisoners.
  • Big Bird –In 2015, over 320,000 chickens were murdered over a five week period in South Carolina as a revenge plot to hurt chicken farmers.
  • Milk Money – Only 11 states allow raw milk sales in retail stores. It is illegal to sell raw milk across state lines.
  • Cod is Dead – The saying “there are plenty of fish in sea” is not as true as it once was. Research shows the number of fish have drastically dropped in recent years because of changing fishing habits and regulations and increased fish consumption.
Overall, this series is valuable for everyone to watch. It’s important that topics like food safety, food fraud, regulations, and food allergies are brought to the forefront for the general population. I hope that people watch the series and take away some useful knowledge. And I hope to see more informative programming like this in the future.

Susan Algeo is the Director of Project Management at Savvy Food Safety, Inc.(formerly Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.), where she facilitates food safety training classes, including ServSafe® and NRFSP®, for corporations nationwide. Susan also provides other food safety services, including food allergy training, as well as consulting, helping operators and their teams improve their standards, procedures, and overall commitment to food safety. Additionally, she conducts third-party inspections of customers’ operations to improve their health inspection results. She is also co-author of the SURETM Food Safety series.  These training manuals are aimed at improving food safety procedures for employees, managers, and trainers in food service and retail establishments.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Difference Between Food Safety Education and Food Safety Training

By Francine Shaw

In my opinion as a food safety expert, there's a huge difference between food safety education and food safety training. Food safety education is an ongoing effort to teach food service professionals about more than just the "basics." It's helping them understand why food safety is so important, the proper protocols to follow, how to prevent contamination, etc. – on an ongoing basis. Think of it this way: Do you want your children to attend sex education or sex training?

Food safety education is critical. Maybe that's where the food safety problems lie: food safety must be looked at as an education program rather than part of a one-time training program where the material isn't reinforced or remembered.

I was recently speaking to a friend who asked me, “How do we make people really care about food safety?” We work in two different arenas within the food service industry. Having an extensive background in the industry, I want to think everyone does care and I tend to get immediately defensive about this issue, and the industry as a whole. But the fact is, there are some in the business who only care about profitability and don't give two hoots about safe food. Will we ever be able to reach those individuals and convince them that food safety is important? I don't know…but I give it my best shot every day.

I believe that most food service operators, corporations, and private entities do care about serving safe food, but that wasn't really what my friend's question was about. If you're a CEO, stockholder or key executive, you have much more at stake in the business, and much more reason to care about food safety. If your restaurant has a foodborne illness outbreak, the damage it would cause (lowered profits, falling stocks, consumer mistrust), would hit these folks where it hurts. His question was more about how we make the entry level restaurant employees care about food safety? It's a major obstacle that every company in the food service industry faces. That evening, I thought about this dilemma for hours.

While I believe a solid food safety culture begins at the top of an organization, many of the fundamentals of that culture must be implemented by entry-level employees as well as management. As we've seen over the past few years, there's often a breakdown in execution, resulting in foodborne illness outbreaks. If entry level (or any level) employees don't care about food safety, they may not make the extra effort to wash their hands often, remove their aprons before using the restrooms, properly clean and sanitize equipment, etc.

I'm going out on a limb and guessing that in at least a few of recent cases of foodborne illness outbreaks, the employees had received food safety training, had proper tools, and the companies had proper policies and procedures in place. Yet, the foodborne illness incidents still occurred. Why?

First and foremost, I'm an educator. I believe that for someone to care, they must understand. Employees need to understand that if they came to work with vomiting and/or diarrhea, didn't wash their hands properly after using the restroom and handled food or equipment, it could cause a Norovirus outbreak – potentially sickening guests, harming the brand, and costing them their job. They need to understand that if ground beef is not cooked to 155°F, someone could get E.coli and die. Do these employees truly understand why they must cook poultry to 165°F, and not cross-contaminate raw proteins (poultry, meats, eggs) with ready-to-eat foods? Or was their food safety training program an exercise in futility? Did their employer train them because the task is a regulatory/corporate requirement, but soon all lessons from training were forgotten?

Restaurants' food safety education programs should achieve positive, measurable results. A solid technology infrastructure will make the education process seamless. Instructors must be dynamic, personable, engaging, and positive, making the material relevant and memorable.

It's essential to implement an ongoing, continuing food safety education process to maximize successes. Measure your program's successes with third-party inspections, mystery shoppers, and follow-up software programs. These programs and solutions can be implemented regardless of a company's goals or budget, helping them effectively, efficiently, and safely run their operations.

Reward systems are incredibly effective, so reward your employees for participating in education programs and implementing the protocols they've learned. Rewards can be simple and inexpensive: a paid day off, pizza parties, movie passes, etc. Make them feel appreciated. Rewards don't always need to be monetary, not everyone is motivated by money.

I believe that we can get more people to care about food safety by properly educating them on this topic. To maximize successes, emphasize food safety education, explain why food safety protocols are important, model proper behaviors, and reward employees for following proper procedures. By properly educating employees – and getting them to care about food safety – we can reduce the foodborne illness incidents and risks.