Food Safety 101 can teach us the basic rules of cleaning, disinfecting, and preserving foods. But one thing it can’t prepare us for — life-altering events that change the rules, like pandemics.
That’s why we wrote this article. Welcome to our coronavirus food safety guide with post-COVID-19 insights into new challenges facing the food industry.
By the end of this article you should have a better understanding of new challenges in food safety practices — and how to deal with them. Topics include:
Ready to build on the food-safety knowledge you already have? Let’s get cookin’.
When I was in college, a few of us would make our weekly weekend pilgrimage to a pizza joint just off campus. The place was run-down, but “the pie” was phenomenal.
So, too, was the experience. The open kitchen allowed us to watch the chef (who was the owner) flip the dough high in the air. It would spin like a wagon wheel before falling to the back of his hands, where he’d stretch, turn, and flip it again until finally slapping it down on the pan and pounding it with flour like he wanted nothing more to do with it.
Part of what made the experience so fascinating to watch? The guy always had a lit cigar wedged in the corner of his mouth as he made his pizza pies. How times have changed!
Challenges to safe food handling practices are influencing new rules and regulations that you should be aware of. Let’s look at how they — and other influences — are impacting the food industry. And what you can do to better protect your customers — and yourself.
Changes in our food production and supply, including more imported foods.
Many food production and supply challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic still linger. A shortage of labor is one of them.
Labor shortage affects the food supply chain at every level. Across the country, agricultural supply chains have been stalled and slowed in producing, processing, and delivering food to consumers. When there are delays in food reaching shelves, spoilage may occur. When businesses are understaffed, safety precautions may be missed. Overall, it can threaten food safety.
That is probably something my cigar-smoking, pizza-making restaurant owner from college never had to worry about. When he needed ingredients for his pizzas, he placed his orders for dough, cheese, sauce, meat, and vegetables, and they probably arrived each week without a hitch. It might not be that easy today.
Today, he might need to find new suppliers for certain ingredients. The effort could require him to search outside the country to find what he needs. And that could open a Pandora’s box of other food safety-related issues.
In fact, according to this article, the United States imports foods from nearly 200 countries, many of which have pesticide and food-safety regulations that vary from those in the U.S.
Importing food from countries with less stringent food safety regulations or oversight can increase the chances of microbiological contamination, undeclared allergens and preservatives, banned antibiotics, and lead contamination of foods and packaging making their way into the food chain.
On top of that, food imports may also make it more difficult to trace food origins should contamination arise.
So if you’re in the food services industry, it might be a good idea to follow the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO). They have a listing of resources to keep you informed on all sorts of topics related to food safety, including imports.
Climate change is a hot topic these days (no pun intended). It’s also a serious food-safety issue.
It’s tough enough growing crops under ideal conditions. But add rising temperatures and flooding from extreme storms to the mix, and you have a recipe for contamination.
Excessive heat increases the chances of food spoilage. Excessive heat increases the chances of pathogens such as bacteria and fungi to sprout up, contaminating crops.
It also puts pressure on businesses within the food supply chain, such as transportation systems, to optimize cooling controls in trucks and holding stations, and come up with ways to deliver foods faster to market to prevent spoilage.
Excessive rains and drastic weather events also increase the likelihood of chemicals getting washed away from industrial sites and carried into water sources, potentially contaminating them. These water sources are then used to irrigate the land and crops, potentially passing on contamination into the food.
If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out this report from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Every year, over 660,000 people in the United States get sick from Salmonella or Campylobacter. They’re two of the top-five germs that contaminate food such as meats, fruits, and vegetables, and spread to people through consumption, causing food poisoning.
The ongoing problem with these strains for restaurant food safety is that they are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and antifungal drugs that are sometimes applied as pesticides to manage plants and crop disease — or treat livestock.
If you work in the food-services industry or are concerned with restaurant safety, you may want to check out what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) are all doing to detect, respond, contain, and prevent resistant foodborne infections.
Or to learn more about antimicrobial resistance in the food supply, including the impact of COVID-19 on antimicrobial resistance in the U.S., check out this site.
Crops and animals need air, land, and water to survive. Caring for the animals — and the environmental resources on which they depend — is key to the future of sustainable farming.
A good way to know if this is happening? Research food companies and read all food labels prior to buying. A good label will help indicate whether foods have been raised and produced in ways that align with your values — and according to food safety measures.
For example, food that’s label “Certified Regenerative” ensures the food has been produced using agricultural practices that help maintain soil, water, air and biodiversity. To learn what different food labels mean, check out this food label guide.
Thinking about opening an eatery? You also may want to think about staffing. According to a recent survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, 78% of business owners said their restaurant did not have enough employees to support customer demand.
It’s not just an operations issue — it’s also a food-safety issue.
For example, let’s say you own a burger joint that specializes in gourmet hamburgers. If a customer can dream one up, you’ll make it for them. The only problem is you’re short-staffed in the kitchen, and as the orders pile up, so too do the burgers.
In your rush to get an order served, one burger comes off the grill too soon and is way undercooked. Usually someone checks the internal temperature, but the staff members are flying around like crazy serving customers, so the undercooking goes unnoticed. The burger gets served. The customer gets sick. And the cause is due to undercooked meat.
It’s one example of how understaffing can become a food safety issue. Human error is a major factor in food illness outbreaks. ZxcV Often, these mistakes are unintentional and are the result of an employee being overwhelmed and rushed. Moral of the story? Staff accordingly, and make safety as important as service.
Innovation can come in the simplest of forms. For example, let’s say you own a restaurant but are struggling to serve customers timely due to being understaffed. Consider reducing the number of items on the menu so the chef and waitstaff can keep up with customer demand and not cut corners to get food out quickly and sacrifice food safety.
It’s a busy life we live. As a result, take-out and food-delivery services are becoming wildly popular.
And it’s not just as a result of the pandemic. People are living busy, fast-paced lifestyles. The convenience of food delivery has become increasingly more important to their routines. That’s great news if you own an established pizza joint or if you recently opened a takeout restaurant.
Indeed, the pandemic has changed food-buying behaviors. In 2021, the food delivery market tripled in value, compared to its value in 2017. And while growth is likely not to be as drastic in the near future, the food delivery market has historically grown at 8% so more growth is expected.
Ordering take-out and relying on delivery has its perks. But it also has its risks, especially if you’re on the business end of preparing and delivering the meals.
If you’re providing take-out or delivery services, here are some things to keep in mind.
When a food delivery order is ready, drivers often pack hot and cold foods together. This can cause foods to reach unsafe temperatures. Consider a packaging system that separates the two using insulated delivery bags to keep hot things hot and cold things cool.
Adding food storage and reheating instructions to each delivery is not only a good way to help ensure that food is safer to eat, but it also makes a good impression with customers. It shows you’re keeping their health and safety in mind.
Self-service kiosks. Limiting the number of people handling food is good food-safety and business practice.
The speed and intelligence of food-safety software solutions can help greatly with food safety. From tracking food shipments and customer movements to helping businesses keep up with food safety regulations, many emerging technologies can help.
As a business owner, it’s helpful to better understand how government agencies and new technologies have come together to better monitor the food supply. This in turn can help protect you and your customers.
Sensors that sit in your coolers, freezers, or other food storage areas are quickly becoming a must-have for many businesses. Improper food temperature is consistently cited as one of the most common food safety violations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so having an automated temperature-monitoring system may provide food-focused businesses with peace of mind.
Many systems work with a web-based platform and Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to constantly monitor your refrigerator or freezer temperature. If the temperature reaches a dangerous level, you receive an alert to your computer, tablet, or smartphone so you can take action before the food goes bad and is unsafe for customers to eat.
The cost of an automated monitoring system depends on the system you choose and the amount of equipment you need to cover. For example, as I'm writing this, if you have two walk-in freezers, SwiftSensors charges a one-time up-front cost of $550 for two sensors, plus an annual fee of $130 to monitor both units.
Considering the cost of lost inventory if your food becomes spoiled, a temperature-monitoring system may be a wise investment.
Recent studies have shown that approximately 94 percent of food packaging companies are using robotics technology to prevent food contamination during production. One example of robotics technology in food packaging is the use of gripper technology. This technology simplifies the handling and packaging of food and beverages, as well as reduces the risk of contamination (with proper sanitation).
Picture a simple, durable one-piece robotic gripper made from materials that are approved for direct food contact. They are capable of handling fresh, delicate foods without contaminating or damaging the product.
I mentioned the importance of labeling earlier in this article. There are two sides of the value-add for businesses. First, knowing how to read a label helps ensure the foods you purchase for your business meet certain safety or sustainability standards. Second, knowing how to use technology to label foods you cook is an important part of preventing foodborne illnesses.
Some kitchen-automation label safety solutions, for example, can help restaurant owners ensure that the food they serve is “safe, healthy, and in compliance with regulatory requirements.”
It also takes the pressure off someone like a prep cook, who otherwise might need to know the hold times and shelf life of every food item on the menu.
Each year, foodborne illnesses affect millions of people. While new regulations, approaches, and technologies can provide better prevention and detection, they’re still not perfect.
That’s why protecting your business with insurance is so important if a customer gets sick or an employee gets hurt. Without the proper insurance coverages in place, your business could take a non-recoverable financial hit.
One type of coverage to consider is general liability insurance. It can help cover the costs associated with third-party accidents. If you own a restaurant or have a food truck or run a food-delivery service, this type of insurance can sometimes help cover you in the event a claim is filed as a result of a foodborne illness, but you'll want to check your specific policy or ask your insurance carrier to confirm.
Another type of coverage to think about? Workers’ compensation insurance. It can help financially protect your business and help take care of your employees if they get injured or sick while working on the job.
It makes perfect sense that insurance is probably the last thing you want to think about when running a business. But don’t let it stress you out. That’s why we’re here to help.
The Simply Business® team routinely helps small businesses, including those in the food-services industry. We’ll work with leading insurers to find coverages tailored to your specific business needs at an affordable price.
The best part? We give you two options to make the process simple and easy.
Following the basics of food safety is always a good idea for preventing foodborne illness. However, if there’s anything that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s that it’s equally important to expect the unexpected — and do your best to prepare for it. That’s why knowledge, prevention, and protection are important.
Hopefully, this article gives you food for thought in those three areas. Because some of the best ways to maintain business stability in the ever-changing food-services industry are: One, understand the supply-chain challenges; two, stay on top of food-safety solutions; and three, financially protect your business — with insurance.
I went to college to be an accountant and graduated with a degree in creative writing. Words won out over numbers, but barely. All credit goes to my parents. Had they talked about anything other than banking at the dinner table growing up—and had they never bribed me with Pop-Tarts to read books, play with my Matchbox cars and quietly exercise my imagination—who knows where my left and right brain would be today.
This content is for general, informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, or financial advice. Please obtain expert advice from industry specific professionals who may better understand your business’s needs. Read our full disclaimer
*Harborway Insurance policies are underwritten by Spinnaker Insurance Company and reinsured by Munich Re, an A+ (Superior) rated insurance carrier by AM Best. Harborway Insurance is a brand name of Harborway Insurance Agency, LLC, a licensed insurance producer in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. California license #6004217.