4 Ways to Enhance Food Safety Culture to Survive this Crisis & the Next
by Kari Hensien, President of RizePoint
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world and the way we do business across every industry, including the food industry. One key takeaway for restaurants and other food businesses is the importance of enhancing food safety cultures in our COVID-19 world.
The definition of food safety culture has changed amid the coronavirus crisis. It used to be “what you’re doing when no one is watching,” meaning foodservice employees followed food safety protocols “behind the scenes.” Guests didn’t necessarily see what employees were doing to keep us safe, such as following proper protocols to avoid cross-contamination, cooking foods to proper temperatures, and meeting a variety of other safety standards.
Now, everyone is always watching to see if your restaurant is complying with new COVID-19 protocols. A nervous public wants to see restaurant employees wearing proper protective equipment, and they want to see continuous cleaning and sanitation efforts across the facility. They want to receive individual condiment packets instead of shared bottles; they want to scan your menu with their phone rather than touch shared menus; and they want to see amplified safety efforts that demonstrate your restaurant’s ongoing commitment to food safety protocols. And if they don’t see ongoing safety efforts in your restaurant, they will dine elsewhere.
COVID-19 is an ongoing challenge and there’s, unfortunately, no end in sight. Since this is not a short-term problem, it requires long-term changes. Businesses must ensure that every employee participates, adopting and embracing your elevated safety culture. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. If one employee works while sick, doesn’t wear a mask, or doesn’t clean your facility properly, your business, employees, and guests are at risk.
Here are four actionable ways to enhance your food safety culture:
- Take great care of your employees. If employees believe food safety isn’t important, your business is at risk. Your employees are your first line of defense when it comes to meeting standards and protecting your brand.
Explain why the protocols are so important and employees will be more likely to comply. If rules seem arbitrary, employees may not follow them. Employees perform better — and more consistently — when they know the “reason why” behind their tasks. They need to understand why their actions and their compliance matter.
If your employees feel safe and protected at your establishment, so will your guests.
- Make the experience collaborative, not punitive. Are your employees putting in minimal effort solely to avoid getting into trouble? Or do they feel empowered to go the extra mile?
Instead of a punitive system, consider creating a collaborative environment. Encourage employees across all locations to help identify potential risks and offer ideas for improvement. If employees know they are going to get help and support by being honest with store evaluations and self-audits, they are more likely to help you catch small issues that can be fixed immediately instead of growing into huge problems or liabilities. This inherently trickles down to improve customer experience and brand management.
It’s far more effective to make everyone proud to be part of a positive food safety culture rather than having them fear the repercussions of a punitive one.
- Leverage a more comprehensive, robust view. In 2020, there’s no shortage of data, especially if you’re doing regular self-assessments, which many food brands are now doing instead of sending a corporate auditor. Use digital tools to gather and organize your data to net incredibly valuable insights.
Digital tools provide a broader perspective across your entire enterprise and allow you to drill down for deeper insights by location or region. When you make this effort, it becomes easier to see trends and hotspots, so you know exactly where to focus attention, training, and corrective actions.
It’s essential to have a holistic view, whether you have one location or many.
- Use the right tools. Even in today’s tech-savvy world, many food businesses still rely on paper, emails, and spreadsheets for safety and quality systems. Unfortunately, manual systems are problematic in a crisis, whether that’s a foodborne illness incident, a food recall, a norovirus outbreak or, as we’re experiencing in 2020, a global health pandemic.
Manual systems make it nearly impossible to view real-time data across an enterprise, analyze trends, identify hotspots, and determine compliance in specific locations. Spreadsheets and paper files can be misplaced, making it challenging to find the right documents in a crisis situation. And human error abounds with paper records. Something as simple as poor handwriting can make it tough to decipher records.
Ditch the paper and use digital tools that make it easy for all employees to access information, analyze data, and adopt proper quality and safety behaviors. Digital tools provide a true, accurate, real-time view across the enterprise and can be drilled down to specific locations.
Tech tools also enable continuous communications with all employees, which is vital in a pandemic, with information and regulations being constantly updated. With digital tools, it’s fast, simple, and accurate to relay information to your entire team.
There are many benefits to adopting software and digital tools. You can gather data quickly and aggregate it from many sources, store data in one place to create a single source of truth, automate corrective action (CAPA), and more. Now’s the time to reevaluate your use of software. Even the FDA’s New Era Blueprint clearly shows the importance of technology for food safety requirements in the future.
Here are the lessons that we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic: Prioritize food safety and build a culture around it; dedicate resources to food safety; demonstrate the importance of an amplified food safety culture through words and actions; and reward employees that embrace the new, elevated protocols. Restaurants and other food businesses that prioritize safety are the ones that will survive (and thrive) during our current crisis and any crises that may follow.
As President of RizePoint, Kari Hensien is championing a new continuous quality initiative. Since travel and interpersonal interactions have been devastated by COVID-19, it’s been challenging for businesses to obtain regular third-party audits, which are integral to access and analyze key data and ensure safety compliance across the enterprise. Kari is facilitating an increased self-assessment auditing model, where businesses and their locations can use RizePoint’s digital platform themselves, resulting in more frequent audits and broader visibility during the pandemic and beyond. For more information or to discuss RizePoint’s solutions, please contact Kari at firstname.lastname@example.org.