It seems like every year there’s a highly publicized outbreak of foodborne illness that ends up linked to a major restaurant chain or food producer. The public outcry often leads to investigations, new regulations on the products involved, and corporate apologies. Meanwhile, the rest of the industry is forced to deal with the fallout regardless of their involvement in the fiasco, reassuring customers that their food is safe and scrambling to meet new regulations.
However, this response is far from an overreaction. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 48 million Americans become victims of foodborne illness each year. The United States Department of Agriculture estimated the cost of these illnesses to be approximately $15.6 billion. The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act is an attempt to bring farms and food producers into the current technological era, but states complain of a lack of funding to properly inspect and hold them accountable.
What does this mean for restaurant franchises, food and beverage manufacturers, and customer-facing food service businesses? They can’t rely on government intervention to prevent foodborne illness and contamination. Even if the next outbreak spurs further legislation, staying ahead of the curve in 2020 will keep your business and your customers safe.
The best way to stay ahead of food safety regulation in 2020 is to implement internal standards, apply them consistently, and use data to provide insights. We’ve gathered some steps below that will help you determine if your current food safety program is up to the task for 2020.
Create internal food safety standards
For customer-facing foodservice businesses in 2020, creating great and effective internal food safety standards means exceeding the regulatory minimum. The internal rules you define should apply to both your frontline employees and suppliers. While most foodborne illness outbreaks can be traced back to a specific farm or production facility, it’s still possible for food to be contaminated in transit, while in storage, or during preparation.
One way to keep all your suppliers on the same page is to outline your internal food safety standards and expectations in your SLA (Service-Level Agreement). Everything you need from a supplier should be clear and delivered in writing. When you perform supplier inspections, it’s essential to make corrections based on mutually understood standards. There’s no point pointing out the need for CAPAs or process changes if your supplier is using a different vocabulary.
For employees, you must provide training, resources, and capable management. Use long-term data to figure out which locations are underperforming. Tools like business intelligence dashboards and custom reports can supply you with crucial training insights, helping you target the specific areas where employees need re-education and encouragement.
Lastly, ensure that managers can deal with issues when they arise. Give them the tools to recognize and report the signs of contaminated product, and make them prepared to correct and educate employees who aren’t meeting expectations. They are your first line of defense against an outbreak and a constant reminder to employees of the high standards you’ve set.
Apply your standards consistently
It’s not enough to simply write the rules down and show them to your supplier and employees. You have to consistently enforce your standards if you want anyone to follow them. To keep suppliers accountable, it’s critical to perform regular inspections with trustworthy inspectors. Mobile forms can help you ensure that everything is on track by walking inspectors through each step, displaying reference info when it’s needed, and logging the GPS location and timestamps.
For your employees at manufacturing sites or food service locations, mobile forms can streamline the inspection process and provide crucial, real-time feedback. When you can launch action plans directly from completed forms and send notifications to the relevant stakeholders, it’s much simpler and easier to catch a contaminated product before it reaches a customer.
Finally, don’t overwhelm your employees or suppliers—but don’t be lax, either. Strike a balance between punitive and encouraging. Create a culture of food safety thoughtfulness, and let managers bear the responsibility for their subordinates. Use structured meetings to find ways to engage customers and suppliers in meaningful, long-term improvements.
Use data to provide insights
Regular inspections accrue a lot of data. If you’re not using that data to make better decisions and identify trending issues, you’re missing out on a useful set of tools. Analyzing your data brings the process of creating and enforcing internal standards full circle: now that you’ve seen your rules in action, you can adjust for further improvement.
After you gather longitudinal food safety data, take action. Where are things trending better or worse? Make incremental changes, monitor the results, and make more data-driven decisions. You’ll be able to understand how your initiatives affected the issue, pivot to improve it further, and forecast future developments as they take place.
In 2020, there’s no reason to be left in the dark when it comes to food safety data. Form.com can help your organization define, enforce, and refine your standards using the most powerful forms automation solution on the market. Get in touch with a solutions expert to learn more about Form.com’s flexible food safety solutions.