Summary: Shortcomings in food safety measures can quickly impact a nation and greatly damage a food chain’s reputation. However, measures like quality control audits, employee training and policy reinforcement and monitoring communications to spot potential problems can help reduce the risk and increase safety.
Recently, Chipolte Mexican Grill has been in the headlines for undesirable reasons when it became known that the chain was dealing with an E.coli problem. Many people eat out several times a week, and rarely, if ever, get sick from doing so. However, when a nationally known chain like Chipotle is thrust into the spotlight because of concerns of tainted ingredients, it understandably draws attention to precautions like quality control audits.
Leadership members at Chipotle took charge and closed down its restaurants for four hours to talk to staff members about new measures that would hopefully prevent food safety problems from occurring in the future. In an effort to turn a public relations crisis into something positive, the company launched a “raincheck campaign” where guests who arrived at the Chipotle locations hoping to get meals during the closure could text a certain number and get a free burrito in return. People love getting things for free, but some people have wondered whether Chipotle’s actions would be enough to make it up to customers. More than likely the freebies are just one part of a multi-prong plan to prove to the public that the food is safe to eat again.
Regular Supply Chain Checks Are Essential
A chain like Chipotle is responsible for serving countless people per day. Consider the potential ramifications then, if it were discovered that a very common ingredient, such as lettuce, were unsafe to eat. Even if the chain stopped serving lettuce immediately, there’s still a chance thousands of people would suffer. That’s a big reason why it’s so crucial for establishments like Chipotle to work with companies that can perform thorough supply chain checks on a regular basis. Some such service providers can even do those checks on site. If the supply chain is checked thoroughly and often, the likelihood increases that problems will be spotted before problematic ingredients even reach the customers or the food servers.
It’s Important to Buy From Reputable Suppliers
The first link in the supply chain is often the supplier. Companies can be responsible by making sure they always get their foods and ingredients from suppliers that are known to practice good standards to prevent problems. Sometimes, the easiest thing to do is to work with a specialty company that already boasts a strong network of suppliers. That way, rather than working with just one company, or perhaps a few companies, it’s possible to work with dozens or even more, and rest assured that all the suppliers are reliable.
Prevention Through Enforcement of Policies
Food safety audits can certainly raise red flags and give warnings that problems are about to occur. However, companies can greatly boost their chances of getting good audit reports just by speaking to employees and teaching them about best practices. Chipotle already made a positive and meaningful step in the right direction by closing its stores for training purposes. However, it’s not enough to simply educate team members. Enforcement must also occur so employees get good feedback when they’re meeting or exceeding what’s expected, and receiving corrective action if that’s not the case. Also, it’s important to provide employees with visual cues, such as signs reminding them to wear gloves when handling food, or wash their hands thoroughly after going to the restroom. Sometimes, making sure good food safety practices are followed is as simple as doing something like making sure the hand sanitizer dispensers are full and that the serving area never runs too low on disposable gloves.
There must also be plans in place so people are treated uniformly if they break food safety policies. There should be courses of action that occur so employees understand the consequences of what they did wrong, and get instructed to not make the same mistake again. Furthermore, if the violations of policy continue, managers must consider putting employees on probation or terminating them. When action is taken that’s consistent and measurable for every policy violation, it becomes more likely employees will know what’s expected of them and not make errors that could cause customers to get sick.
Monitoring for Possible Problems
Managers of establishments that serve or sell food also have a responsibility to monitor public communications forums, including social media channels, for indicators of possible food safety problems. Most major chains have phone numbers customers can call or websites they can go to in order to report problems with the service they received. In many cases, people contact those places if they felt the food tasted bad or was not served properly. Those channels must be monitored regularly. It’s not sufficient to just have a place where problems can be reported, but never take any action to investigate the claims customers have. If customers don’t feel they are being heard, that could cause a potential food safety threat to go unnoticed for too long, but also could cause people to get so frustrated that they take their patronage elsewhere, per the Wall Street Journal (http://blogs.wsj.com/riskandcompliance/2016/02/25/awareness-training-oversight-keys-to-mitigating-food-safety-risks/).
There are some third-party companies that can take care of monitoring what people are saying about particular establishments. However, it’s up to personnel from those establishments to respond quickly and make customers feel they are being respected and valued. Failure to do that could result in reputational damage that may take years to repair.
It should now be clear that there are a number of ways to safeguard businesses from food safety threats. Not even well-known companies are immune to this problem, but precautions can go a long way in managing the risks. Although these preventative measures may seem time consuming, they are well worth the effort when it comes to helping businesses thrive in a competitive marketplace.