Food service is at the end of the supply chain and all the good work done throughout the supply chain to assure safe food may be jeopardized by incorrect behaviours and processes at this step.
Food Service has a major role to assure safe food for consumers. Throughout the years, many were the cases and stories that came to public where food safety was neglected leading to food poising. These situations besides the impact on consumers health also have high consequences on brand trust and reputation.
Food service is at the end of the supply chain and all the good work done throughout the supply chain to assure safe food may be jeopardized by incorrect behaviours and processes at this step. In our homes, when we cook for ourselves and our family, this is also true but the severity of consequences, as you can easily understand, is much more limited than when we are talking about restaurants, or chains of restaurants, that can deliver hundreds or thousands of meals in one service.
It is also important to recognize that being at the end of the supply chain is also challenging because food service can be held responsible, at least at the eyes of the consumers, for incorrect behaviours and processes done throughout the supply chain. Many of these situations are impossible to detect by food service business even with all controls in place.
I was contacted by Wayne Blything back in August 2020 following a comment he did on one of my ‘I’m a Saving Lives Officer’ (SLO) posts. We maintained contact and for a long time I wanted him to share his years of experience with my community. Finally this was possible, and I challenged him to share his 5 key aspects of Food Safety in Food Service.
I am happy to share his reply with you all.
Wayne’s top 5 things to ensure food safety.
This is a good question as no single aspect of food safety is more important than the other. Everything we do to protect the consumer is intertwined with one and other like a large bowl of spaghetti. That’s right, I just used a bowl of spaghetti as my analogy, I obviously need a break from my day job! But in all seriousness, everything we do in our profession to ensure a strong food safety culture is equally important in its own way. If I had to choose my top five things to ensure food safety, then I would choose the following; Training, Hazard Awareness, Leadership, Performance Measurement and Simplicity.
Let’s look at TRAINING which is a vital tool to ensure food safety. There has been a lot of debate around training in recent years and especially classroom-based training and its effectiveness. Some would say that classroom training has had its day and is not fit for purpose, and stats would support that classroom-based training alone does not reduce food borne illness. I do agree with this and as it points out in one of my favourite books ‘Hygiene for Management by Richard Sprenger’ people are not empty vesicles that can be filled with knowledge and expected to go away and put it into practice’. As an ex Environmental Health Officer I have lost count of how many times I have inspected businesses and even though all the classroom-based certificates are readily available for inspection, sadly the basics taught in these classes are not being put into practice or the basic knowledge just isn’t there. It almost feels like getting the certificates is a hoop to jump through for businesses to satisfy the local authority rather than to enhance food safety knowledge and practices.
When developing your training plan, it needs to be blended between classroom and on the job targeted training that is specific to a person’s role, this way the training becomes about quality and has purpose as apposed to a tick box exercise .
Training must also be fun and engaging as let’s be honest to an 18-year-old starting out in the industry, there is nothing more boring than food safety. They just want to cook and be like their favourite celebrity Chef and are not thinking about the difference between a detergent and disinfectant, a German and Oriental Cockroach or the powers a Local Authority Officer has.
So in short, food safety training is key, but it must be targeted, fun, hands on and ongoing. Once people put something into practice and understand why they are doing something they are more likely to do it when no-one is looking.
Although saying the above, I do still feel classroom-based training still has its advantages as part of a blended programme of learning. As food safety professionals we can sometimes be seen as the food police when entering a business in our white coats. It is very common for food handlers to fear us and put a smoke screen up which leads to them telling us what they think we want to hear rather than the truth. This is obviously dangerous as important behaviours can be missed, opportunity to offer advice lost and ultimately it can lead to serious incidents.
The classroom is a perfect place to show new starters to the company that food safety professionals are in fact human beings and that we are on their side with one common goal TO SAVE LIVES (We are SLOs right Nuno?). It is also a great setting to drive home the importance of their role in food safety and how they are so vital to protect the guest and the brand. I have been able to build a real rapport with so many employees during my training. There is not better feeling than being stopped by them in the restaurants and being shown potential issues that they have identified and then asking for advice.
Closely linked with training is HAZARD AWARENESS. If we are not aware of the hazards and risks within our business, then we may as well pack up and go home. Businesses need to ensure that they can identify the current hazards and ensure the teams are focused on these within their respective areas. One team may be responsible for raw meat preparation, whilst the other is making high risk ready to eat desserts with a variety of ingredients. Obviously, the hazards are going to vary in each function and the team should be aware of what they are. It’s about understanding the hazards associated with your operations from suppliers through to service and ensuring adequate controls are put in place along the way.
It is not only the current hazards in your operations that need to be considered but you need to look at potential issues on the horizon and this can be done using many types of software. Being able to monitor daily supply chain ingredients and supplier threats for biological, chemical, and physical hazards ensures you are being proactive to hazards in your supply chain and not reactive. Again, what is the point in having a fancy HACCP and working so hard if your pre-requisites are not in place and the food entering the business is compromised to begin with.
LEADERSHIP is non-negotiable when it comes to food safety. We look up to our leaders to set an example for us and when we see them doing the right thing then we feel obliged to do it ourselves. It isn’t only the leadership team’s responsibility to write and create food safety policies and strategies, but they must walk the walk and show a real interest in the company’s food safety practices.
In my early career as a chef I had a good role model in the kitchens. I was working as an apprentice in an Italian restaurant called ‘Est Est Est’ in a place called Heswall near Liverpool. Every morning I arrived early at work and would find all the ovens and fridges pulled out and my Head Chef would be on his hands and knees cleaning before anyone arrived. Looking back on it I don’t know if he really wanted to do this or it was his way of leading by example, either way it profoundly affected me and made me want to keep the kitchen clean just like he did. This was a real stroke of leadership genius that I didn’t recognise at the time.
Another example was in my previous role in Harrods. One of the most senior and probably busiest Directors in the company had a non-negotiable fortnightly walk around every restaurant, food hall and storage area with all the stakeholders involved. We would all be quizzed on any issues identified and it was a great opportunity for each department to raise any potential concerns with structure or food safety. He drove this regular floor walk and it made you feel like food safety was a top priority to the business which in turn helped to develop that positive food safety culture and sense of pride in what we were doing.
MEASURING PERFORMANCE is another part of strong leadership but acts an important tool in itself. If you don’t know where you are then you will never know where you are going. There needs to be a clear food safety strategy for the company with manageable milestones and measured with key performance indicators. Every person in the business needs to be accountable, especially the leadership team if objectives are not being achieved. Equally, by measuring your performance will not only help you to identify any weaknesses in your business, but it will also help you to build confidence in the team when you give them praise and reflect on the key food safety achievements throughout the year. I Harrods we were able to see a 50% reduction in food safety related complaints which gave me and the team reassurance that we were doing something right. If these complaints would have increased, then then this would have obviously prompted a review in our systems. Therefore, measuring performance is a great way of boosting morale and helping you to identify when more attention is needed in certain areas before it’s too late.
And finally is SIMPLICITY. If you want things doing properly and consistently you need to make it simple. We are all busy and the temptation to cheat is always there so the easier and less time-consuming things are the better. This may be reviewing all your due diligence records you expect the team to complete so that you are capturing what you need to, but not overcomplicating things for the sake of it. I have lost count of the number of times I have visited a premises and don’t know if I am looking at due diligence records or reading a Harry Potter Novel.
As food safety professionals in the private sector we not only have a responsibility to the guest, but also to the business. We need to see ourselves as enablers that are there to support the business to achieve their strategic goals. A few things I am currently working on at Vapiano to make life easier for everyone is going digital! This includes having all our allergen records automated from our supplier specifications. This will not only reduce admin time but also reduce the risk for human error as minimal people will be involved in the data input process.
Along with this I am working on going digital with our due diligence records. I want to have tablets throughout the business with all our temperature records digitally recorded with smart probes. This will not only remove the need for manual input by the team but will save the chefs and managers vital admin time and encourage consistent and accurate records are taken. All this would not be possible without a Senior Leadership Team that is committed to food safety and understand the importance of investment in this area. Another great example of our positive food safety culture at Vapiano.
Another great example of simplicity is the World Health Organisations ‘Five Keys to Safer Food’. I am in Africa next month delivering food safety training through my charity The Catering Hospitality and Education Foundation. www.chef.gives check us out. The WHO realised that food safety can fast become complex and hard to understand with the main message sometimes being lost. They developed a simple training model which we have now based our training materials on. They don’t go into HACCP and risk management but rather the fundamentals of food safety. 1. Keep clean 2. Separate raw and cooked 3. Cook thoroughly 4. Keep food at safe temperatures and 5. Use safe water and raw materials.
I guess what I am trying to say is, if you can simplify things then go ahead and do it as the likelihood is it will have a higher rate of success.
In 2013 I was invited to live and work in Africa and my role was to be the Head Chef of a catering/training school. This training school operated as a fine dining restaurant, conference center and hotel which offered outside catering to clients such as the US Ambassador and the EU residence, so the pressure was on.
Before I would even entertain letting the green trainees loose in my kitchen, I had to teach them some basic food safety.
At first, they laughed when I told them they had to put rice in the fridge, and they laughed even harder when I had them all queuing up at the hand wash basin to sing happy birthday twice out loud. In fact, I think they thought I was some crazy guy constantly telling them to wash their hands and take the temperature of the fridges.
It wasn’t until several months later when I realized all the explaining and constant reminders had finally paid off. It was a particularly busy period and I had been up throughout the night prepping for an event that day, and after the event I went straight into a busy dinner service. I was exhausted to say the least and I was trying to do a few too many things at once when I heard a sincere voice from the other side of the kitchen say “Chef…you forgot to wash your hands”! Even in peak dinner service and a state of exhaustion, I remember feeling a sense of accomplishment, as this simple but so important thing was now embedded in my young teams’ minds. I laughed to myself, praised the team, and headed straight to the hand wash basin to sing happy birthday twice!!
CHALLENGES – ONE SENTENCE
On a local level the main challenge will be over stretched work forces and reduced team competency due to lack of available labour in the UK. This is going to be a real challenge to ensure food safety is at the forefront of people’s minds. Retention of knowledge in business is going to be key. On a wider scale, potential food fraud as we open to more trading partners outside of the EU.
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This article was written by Nuno F. Soares.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this article is based on research done in the last months and the authors personal experience and opinion. It is not intended to represent the view of any organization they work for or collaborate with. The authors will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information provided in the article.