Green onions, spinach, peanuts, lettuce, tomatoes: These are just some of the popular and essential foods that have been the focus of some recent high-profile food contamination incidents. Food-related illnesses and product recalls make everyone uneasy, especially those in the foodservice industry. However, adherence to best practices in food safety can do more than keep people safe – it can also result in significant cost savings for restaurant and foodservice operators.
Ensuring food safety at your establishment begins with managing the flow of food through hazard analysis critical control points (HACCPs), a highly recommended risk management process. HACCPs address the analysis and control of food contamination risks for every step of your operation. Covering the entire food production process, HACCP ensures food safety from the farms that grow the food, through processing and distribution, procurement and preparation, and finally to consumption of the finished product.
Fundamental to the HACCP process is identifying the risks and critical control points (CCPs), or steps in the process, when a food safety risk can be prevented, eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level. CCPs need to be monitored and corrected when a deviation occurs to guarantee the safety of the food products.
Food safety in receiving areas
Before a delivery truck enters your loading dock to deliver food, procedures should be in places to safeguard and properly handle the food when it arrives. Safe receiving, storage, handling and food preparation are important. One key strategy is to appoint a trained receiving staff member to inspect product upon delivery and ensure the product is properly stored. If food items are not received in good condition, foodservice operators cannot improve the situation.
To minimize errors in food safety practices, receive only the number of items you can check and store at one time before accepting another delivery. This avoids confusion on the loading dock and prevents the spoilage of temperature-sensitive foods while nonrefrigerated items are examined.
Be ready to take the temperature of refrigerated and frozen foods. Count quantities and visually inspect your order, looking for damaged cases, items that have been repacked and expiration dates that have passed. Look for large ice crystals on products that indicate thawing and freezing. For dried goods, check for moisture, mold, holes in packaging and evidence of insects. Be prepared to reject unacceptable products.
Label and store received items quickly and follow the rule of stock rotation: first in, first out (FIFO), which is critical to keeping food fresh and safe. Equally important is to keep your storage area safe and clean. Wipe up spills and leaks and remove dirt and trash quickly. Keep storage racks clean and free of rust and do not let cracked walls or floors go unrepaired. Keep unauthorized people out of food storage areas.
Maintaining the cold chain
The safety and quality measures taken by successful distribution centers are just as important as the HACCP plan at the supplier’s facility or the careful handling and preparation by you, the operator. Best-in-class distributors devote substantial resources to cold chain management by addressing critical challenges associated with product freshness, food safety, and proper temperature and transport throughout the entire delivery cycle. Proper cold chain management can help maximize the shelf life of products such as fresh agricultural produce and processed foods. It is also critical in preventing foodborne illnesses with temperature-sensitive products. During distribution, monitor equipment status and product temperature history during every step in the chain to help ensure that the product is safe when it reaches the consumer.
What to expect from the distributor to maintain the cold chain
- Refrigerated warehouses and trucks
- Temperature monitoring of the warehouses and trucks
- Temperature history of the products being shipped
- Standard operating procedures that address the food safety risks at each step of the supply chain
- Staff expertly trained in food safety
- Sufficient staff certified in HACCP at each location
What are the cost savings?
Is it possible to save money while maintaining the highest standards of food safety? Yes. Safe handling will help prevent foodborne illnesses, which cost billions of dollars each year in healthcare costs and lost wages, which can be devastating to any foodservice business. Handling food safely also reduces waste by helping to preserve food quality and maximize shelf life, which are cost savings. Finally, observing food safety practices results in more flavorful, nutritious and enjoyable food, keeping your customers coming back for more. This can have a direct impact on your profits. Ensuring food safety takes time and work, but the savings can be immeasurable.
For more information
- Have a question about food safety? Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854.
- Visit http://www.foodsafety.gov/ for food safety updates, alerts and guidelines on safely handling specific foods.
- Visit http://www.fightbac.org/ for information about foodborne illnesses and free food safety posters and educational materials.