Consumers demand fresh food — but that can lead to food safety challenges, especially when fresh produce is a key feature of your menu. But there are steps you can take to protect the safety of your food supply and enhance safety protocol within your restaurant. As Restaurant Dive reports, a string of romaine lettuce contamination incidents led Chipotle’s new CEO, Brian Niccol, to attack food safety from several angles. First, the brand developed a field leadership team of food safety managers. They oversee five to 10 restaurants and train managers how to run a restaurant with an emphasis on food safety. The company also revamped its supply chain team, introduced quarterly food safety training, developed a “focus prep” team to limit the number of people preparing food, and transitioned more cooking tasks to a central kitchen where food safety could be more closely monitored. Finally, they focused on retaining employees so that food safety knowledge had a better chance of accumulating on staff. The efforts appear to be turning results around for the brand, which generated revenue gains of nearly 9 percent last year, according to earnings data.
Making do with less-than-adequate kitchen equipment can lead to a safety issue for your staff and guests, impact your restaurant’s performance and consume excess energy. Does any of your equipment require frequent servicing or parts replacement? Does your chef have to adapt his or her use of equipment to avoid injury? Is there equipment that can save space in your kitchen by accomplishing multiple tasks — or save on energy? (For example, a piece of kitchen equipment like a countertop food steamer that uses less water than a basic model could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the product.) Checking your tools against the NSF’s Certified Food Equipment list can help you identify effective and efficient replacements of kitchen equipment and tools that aren’t serving you as well as they could.
Looking for alternatives to plastic for off-premise food packaging? Increasingly, it’s coming from plants. Corn is currently being used for plastic alternatives ranging from straws to containers, but according to a report in Scientific American, the disposal of the material poses challenges, along with leaving an environmental footprint. It is compostable and not recyclable, so if not sent to an industrial facility where it can biodegrade, the process can take between 100 and 1000 years (versus just a few months). Still, other promising and more easily biodegradable plant-based plastics are being developed from materials ranging from cactus to algae. Some are even designed to eliminate waste altogether. The Spoon reports that the startup Decomer is developing a plant-based capsule containing honey. It can dissolve in coffee, tea, or other liquids at a wide range of temperatures.
The bulky equipment in your kitchen may not be the most convenient to clean, but it’s important your kitchen team does it properly to avoid the risk of cross-contamination. For items that can’t be cleaned automatically, Statefoodsafety.com advises you first turn off and unplug the electrical equipment you plan to clean, then wash and rinse the outside of the equipment, followed by the area underneath and around it. Clean and sanitize any removable parts by soaking them or cleaning them in a three-compartment sink. Anything that cannot be removed and cleaned must be washed and rinsed in place. Finish by wiping everything down with sanitizing solution. To avoid contamination, air dry all equipment instead of using a cloth, and resanitize any surfaces that may have gotten recontaminated when you put the equipment back together following cleaning. Clean ovens weekly, refrigerators and freezers monthly, and sinks regularly between uses — especially if they are used frequently throughout the day.
When a London restaurant was informed in advance about a guest with a severe nut allergy coming to dine recently, the restaurant said the guest could either bring his own food and have the restaurant heat it (at a cost of $22), or eat food from the kitchen and sign a waiver acknowledging risk of cross-contamination. While this was a public relations mistake for sure, it demonstrates the pressure restaurants feel to lower the risk of preparing food for guests with allergies. How do your risk management practices measure up? Public health consultants EHA Group advise foodservice operators to assess a food’s path from warehouse to plate, which requires careful communication with your suppliers, distributors and staff. Use a production matrix that labels, tracks and dictates how to handle allergens so you can feel confident about managing them. Isolate allergens in storage and preparation areas, cook allergen-free foods first, change utensils after each item, wash hands thoroughly after handling allergens, change aprons or uniforms when there is a contamination risk, and clean preparation areas and equipment well after handling allergens.
Receive a shipment of fruit and the clock starts: You have a small window of time to either use the fresh fruit or freeze it, right? But an emerging company called StixFresh has developed technology that they say can extend the shelf life of a fruit by up to two weeks, helping people minimize food waste and save money at the same time. (The company says up to 52 percent of fruit goes to waste each year in the U.S.) StixFresh developed stickers made from an all-natural material that can slow the ripening process when stuck to fruit. The stickers work best on apples, avocados, dragon fruits, kiwis, oranges and pears and can also be used on such fruit as apricots, lemons and pomegranates. The StixFresh stickers will be available this summer.
A single foodborne illness outbreak could cause a quick-service or fast-casual restaurant approximately $2 million in financial damage, according to a 2018 study from Johns Hopkins University. Your restaurant’s ability to deliver safety training and respond to threats quickly in an environment of escalating costs and shrinking training budgets can make a huge difference. Modern Restaurant Management suggests digitizing and automating your food safety audits to drive food safety consistency and quality, in addition to making reporting and compliance a less time-consuming process. For example, instead of having to remember to manage certain tasks during a busy shift, you can schedule alerts, surveys and checklists to go out at specific times of day to team members via a mobile app. Instead of recording results with paper and pen or on a spreadsheet, you can report them on a dashboard-based system that can automate food safety standards and reinforce them across multiple restaurant locations.
Improper cleaning and storage of your knives can cause these tools to become blunt and worn prematurely or cause injury. Chefify advises operators to wash, dry and store knives immediately after each use. Soaking them with other tools may result in damage if the knives knock against those items, prolonged soaking can corrode the blade’s chromium coating, and the heat of a dishwasher may wear out knife handles. When storing knives, avoid placing them in a drawer with other utensils where they may become blunt or cause injury. Use plastic blade guards if you store knives in drawers or, better yet, store them on a magnetic strip or in a wooden block (blade side facing down).
Could your restaurant go cafeteria-style? According to new research from Datassential, cafeteria-style setups may be a modern reinvention of the buffet. In a recent survey of 1,500 consumers, 55 percent of respondents said they like or love cafeteria-style dining. These arrangements are especially popular with consumers who have young children and want a range of choices to suit the whole family. There could be other benefits to these arrangements too: Having a server dish out
prepared food in a cafeteria line could provide the labor-side benefits of a buffet and also help protect food safety, since guests aren’t serving themselves.
Are you among the many operators trying to figure out how to make delivery profitable? At a time when off-premise sales account for 38 percent of restaurant sales, according to Technomic, delivery has become a must for restaurants, even when the margins aren’t necessarily making the service profitable for those brands. Fortunately, new models are beginning to make the numbers work out. Recent Technomic forecasts have predicted that “subscription models that eliminate per-delivery fees in favor of a flat-rate subscription will emerge to present a clearer value proposition to customers.” The Spoon reports that a number of third-party delivery providers have come up with palatable offers for restaurants and consumers alike: DoorDash’s DashPass offers a monthly subscription of $9.99 for delivery of orders priced $15 or higher from a selection of restaurants, and Postmates has a similar offer. In the UK, Deliveroo is offering a £7.99 per month subscription for orders of any amount, and Uber Eats is reported to be testing a loyalty program that could eliminate delivery fees — if the experiment works there, it is likely to make its way across the pond eventually. Even operators who aren’t opting for subscription models are finding ways to make delivery profitable. In fact, delivery may be helping Chipotle make a comeback. Skift Table reports that delivery sales climbed 13 times in the fourth quarter of 2018 as compared to the same quarter of the previous year. Chipotle’s CFO credits a couple of factors for the success: the creation of a separate, digital food assembly line for off-premise orders, which enables the restaurant to process a greater number of orders, as well as a delivery-friendly menu (burritos and taco bowls are good travelers).
At a time when many operators are looking to scale down their restaurant footprints to accommodate service model changes and stay profitable, every square inch of food preparation space counts. At the recent NAFEM, the show hosted by the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers of Chicago, the theme was about helping operators do more with less, using tools ranging from multifunctional prep stations on wheels to compact, high-efficiency ovens to electric bakers with interchangeable molds for accommodating a wide range of snack foods. Nation’s Restaurant News reports that a highlight of the show was a collaboration between the equipment company Vulcan and the quick-service seafood restaurant Captain D’s. The restaurant had challenged Vulcan to devise a more efficient fryer, and the result was a smaller fryer that can be mounted on a freezer base and allows a worker to complete a task while standing in place. In stores currently using the fryers, fry times decreased 30 percent and the stores saved $10,000 annually. Where is there an opportunity to increase the efficiency of your kitchen?
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