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Biggest Food Safety Challenges for Restaurant Owners

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The restaurant industry is one of the most diverse sectors of the hospitality industry, raking in close to $900 billion every year; but with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this number has steeply fallen to $659 billion, as of 2020.

In spite of the setbacks caused by the pandemic, the restaurant sector has been experiencing a food safety and hygiene renaissance, with factors such as customer expectations and brand trust playing a significant role in a restaurant’s survival during the pandemic.  In light of these recent developments, how can restaurateurs and hospitality professionals navigate operations which have to accommodate heightened hygiene practices?

An answer to this question is not straightforward; however, acknowledging the challenges faced by the restaurant sector would be the first step in creating a Food Safety Management System fit for a specific outlet, such as:

Pest Control: Figuring out a suitable pest control program for a restaurant may prove to be a challenge; if left unchecked, rodent and/or cockroach infestation can spread quickly and cause issues such as ingredient damage, food product contamination, and unpleasant odors. Before the start of operations, bringing in an expert who can audit the premises will be helpful in devising a program for preventing any potential infestation from getting out of control.

Effective Cleaning & Sanitization: With the onset of the pandemic, effective cleaning and sanitization of food spaces have been pushed into the limelight; however, implementing and validating this process can prove to be difficult, as factors like cleaning chemicals, method of sanitization, and areas of concern have to be taken into consideration. In this case, it would be prudent to ensure that a cleaning schedule is in place, inclusive of common touchpoint sanitization, validation of the anti-viral property of cleaning chemicals, and most importantly, training of staff in order to ensure consistent and effective sanitization throughout the operation.

COVID-19 Protocols: In pandemic times, protocols such as regular hand washing, social distancing, and respiratory hygiene are new norms that staff might not be familiar with; in order to solve this, a schedule of regular briefings and training in these protocols should be implemented, along with robust monitoring techniques to ensure that there are no lapses. Implementing seemingly difficult arrangements, such as de-densification of seating to accommodate social distancing can prove to be a challenge or even detrimental for business, but ensures brand trust among customers in the long term.

Food Safety Culture: Undoubtedly, the most difficult challenge any food establishment will face is inculcating a sense of urgency in regards to food hygiene. Establishing a rich food safety culture can prove to be a long game; the significance of smaller problems snowballing into long-term issues can prove to be an expensive oversight. An important step towards ingraining overall food safety culture is leading by example; leadership teams should expect stringent hygiene protocols from themselves as well as their subordinates. Regular training of staff in food hygiene, food hygiene signage and posters, and a robust system of monitoring are all add-on factors that could help instill a broader culture of food hygiene.

Allergen Policy: Food allergies affect over 2-3% of adults and 10% of children globally, and are fast becoming prevalent in all parts of the world. But keeping food allergen safe can prove to be an unexpected roadblock to smooth kitchen operation; ensuring separate sections for allergenic foods and additional robust sanitization techniques can prove to be quite a task. A first step that can be taken to implement this is creating a food allergy policy, wherein staff is instructed to inform customers of potential allergens in a dish. As allergic reactions can prove to be severe and even fatal (i.e., anaphylactic shock) it is also important to create a procedure on handling allergic reactions, in addition to allergen training, menu revamping, and allergen policy signage displayed front of the house.

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Supplier Selection:  A restaurant’s dishes are only as good as their ingredients; in this sector, procuring fresh and safe ingredients from a trusted source can be tough. To ensure the procurement of high-quality suppliers, a set of vetting standards can be used to determine whether a supplier can be brought onboard. Factors such as consistency, quality, hygiene standards, and costs should ideally play a role in the creation of these vetting standards. Once selected, however, suppliers should be made aware of the consequences of any food hygiene breaches that may occur in order to secure consistent quality.

Food Safety and Hygiene can pose challenges to the smooth operation of any restaurant; the goal is to identify what exactly those challenges are for a specific establishment and create procedures and programs adept at solving them. Programs such as pest control programs, sanitization protocols, allergen policies, and a food safety culture can all contribute to a restaurant that can be considered an example of food safety and hygiene in this competitive industry.

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