When monitoring the temperature of food, the only gauge to trust is a food thermometer inserted into the food in question. As Statefoodsafety.com reports, you can get an inaccurate measure if you rely on the temperature reading of the equipment used to heat or cool the food, or the thermometer reading of the water that may surround the food in its serving container. Make sure any hot-held food reaches at least 135˚F and cold food stays 41˚F or cooler.
If you’re operating a food truck or a food festival stall this summer, your food safety practices will be front and center for consumers. Make sure your preparation area is tidy and that you have your foodservice license or inspection certificate displayed. If you don’t have immediate access to a sink for handwashing, have a clear protocol for handling money and serving food separately, including the use of gloves and tongs. Be mindful of exposure to heat and make sure to monitor the temperature of any ingredients that need to stay at the proper temperature — particularly TCS foods like meat, dairy, sliced fruit and cooked vegetables — since foods can easily slip into the danger zone on warm days.
Even as plant-based meat companies continue to improve upon their offering and make it easy to be a vegetarian or flexitarian these days, are the committed carnivores in your midst likely to order an Impossible Burger? Or a plant-based steak or stack of bacon? Perhaps not. Cell-based meat may have some promise here. Despite its current high cost, and questions about how it will be regulated and about whether it is actually better for the environment than conventional meat, the deciding
factor may be taste. As reported in The Spoon, food tech companies are still in the midst of taste testing products ranging from cell-based sausages to shrimp, and the first public sale of cell-based meat is likely to happen late this year. Look for more companies to emerge (and for prices to start to fall) next year.
As the weather warms up and guests are looking to cool down with chilled food and beverages, remember to treat your ice like food — or risk spreading harmful bacteria. Train employees to wash hands before handling ice and to not touch ice with their bare hands but use clean, sanitized scoops.
Statefoodsafety.com also advises that any ice used to chill food or beverages be made from drinking water to prevent contamination.
Chicken causes more foodborne illness than any other food, according to new data from the CDC. While this may be an indicator that new systems in place to identify threats are working — not that our food is less safe — it’s still important to respect chicken’s risks. Salmonella and campylobacter remain the most common causes of foodborne illness outbreaks and these bacteria are often found in chicken products. To protect your guests, avoid cross-contamination as a result of chicken coming into contact with hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils and other foods. Thaw it in the refrigerator, in cold water but covered (washing it can spread bacteria), or in the microwave. When cooking chicken, make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees measured at the thickest part of the thigh.
As vegetarian and vegan food continue to rise on lunch and dinner menus, it makes sense that breakfast would follow. (And operators would be wise to tap the breakfast segment if they haven’t already: Data from the National Restaurant Association indicates that breakfast accounts for 21 percent of all restaurant traffic — and guests are welcoming breakfast foods throughout the day.) So how can operators compete on breakfast? Skift Table reports that Just, a vegan food company that makes an egg protein substitute called Just Egg, is positioning itself as the leader in the category and has new partnerships with casual dining brands that will soon be offering the product on menus. Aside from eggs, breakfast bowls and protein bars — packed with almond or oat milk, chia seeds, quinoa and nut butters —provide a lot of opportunity for building creative, protein-rich combinations too.
Know the right tools to manage food fraud
About 10 percent of the food supply is impacted by food fraud, Food Safety Tech reports. Chances are, many of the foods you serve and use in recipes every day, including coffee, olive oil, orange juice and fish, are among the most vulnerable in the food supply, notes Shield Safety Group. But many food companies aren’t prepared to manage the problem. In a recent Food Safety Tech report, the senior manager of food safety & defense, QRC at the Hershey Company and the manager of food safety & quality assurance at GMA discussed the best tools available to monitor food fraud – consider them when talking with your suppliers about how they are managing and mitigating risks. The USP Food Fraud Database 2.0, for one, contains thousands of fraud records, can be searched by ingredient and offers some automated analytics tools. EMAlert is a predictive model that analyses the vulnerability of ingredients based on weight, which makes it a good platform for sourcing commodities. SSAFE Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessment provides a strong starting point for companies looking to assess their risk by ingredient, product, brand, facility, country or company, and it can be used across the supply chain. The World Factbook of Food contains more than 130 foods and 75 country profiles, which draw from a range of sources to help assess risk. Finally, the Food Adulteration Incidents Registry contains more than 550 incidents of food fraud, providing access to open data records that can support food risk assessments.
Bad reviews? Take the reins
What restaurant operator doesn’t love a great review? A Harvard University study found that an extra star in your online reviews can generate 5 to 9 percent more sales. But in a Foodable report, restaurant coach Donald Burns recommends you consider some facts to keep things in perspective. First off, a whopping 20 percent of reviews are fake, added by unethical businesses that want to improve their ratings, albeit falsely, and take the competition down a peg. (Take heart that sites like Review Skeptic are helping to uncover the fakes, so false reviews may be a declining problem.) Before you take a negative (or even a positive) review to heart, consider whether it’s accurate. If a negative one holds true, use it to improve. Make sure you have established clear standards and core values that your team lives and breathes, and that you’re taking steps every day to train and develop them. Are there trouble spots on your menu? Does your customer service need polish? Remember that your response to a negative review can build or bust your credibility with readers. If a review is negative, apologize without making excuses and, within 24 hours, ask for a chance to win them back. Before posting a response, compose a draft in a different application and ask a trusted person to read it to ensure it comes off professionally. If it doesn’t, you’ll have a bigger problem on your hands when your words are shared around the Internet within minutes of your response.
Protect against poultry risk
If you host young children in your restaurant, pay special attention to food safety: Kids under age four are five times more likely than adults to contract bacterial infections from food, according to the Centers for Disease Control. FightBAC.org recommends you pay close attention to chicken, often a go-to option for children’s menus, though a risky one: A recent report from the CDC linked chicken to 23 foodborne illness outbreaks and said it was the food category responsible for the second-largest number of foodborne illnesses. A single drop of raw poultry juice can contain enough Campylobacter to cause illness. Remember to emphasize proper food handling in your kitchen – handwashing before and after handling poultry, storing it on a low shelf to prevent cross-contamination, thawing it at or below 40˚F instead of washing it (that can spread bacteria around the kitchen), and cooking it to 165˚F to kill harmful bacteria.
Experience the halo effect
You don’t have to have a fat marketing budget to make a big splash on social media. Look at Halo Top ice cream, a small business that now competes with giants in the category, thanks in part to its online marketing strategy. Food Dive reports that the company claims it has never paid for a social media post and only recently began paying for any brand advertising at all. However, the company’s success in producing packaging, photos and other highly shareable content has resulted in the hashtag #HaloTop being used 100,000 times and the company’s account attracting about 400,000 followers. The company sold nearly 17 million pints of its high-protein, low-calorie ice cream last year, boosting sales by 2,500 percent.
More tech, higher sales
Technology is making it increasingly easier for restaurants to upsell consumers. An Associated Press report that assessed the business results of a number of national restaurant brands confirmed that people tend to order more when they order digitally, whether online, on a tablet or via a mobile app. Certainly, a consumer who can readily spend with a credit card instead of cash (which comes with the territory when tech is used for ordering) will spend more anyway – 12 to 18 percent more, according to a Dun & Bradstreet study. However, it also helps that a computer will allow a consumer to browse for a longer amount of time and, while a human taking an order might neglect to promote extra items, a computer will automatically ask a consumer if he wants to add toppings or extras. Ziosk, which makes devices used at Chili’s and Olive Garden, among other brands, says restaurants see more appetizer and dessert orders when using their devices – and there’s usually more coffee tacked on to those orders.
Robots changing the face of restaurant labor
Food industry leaders recently flocked to SXSW for a look at trends on the horizon. One big one, of course, is continued development in automation. According to a Restaurant Business report about SXSW, this included everything from software used to connect restaurants with a pool of qualified workers to fill shifts, to robots that can automate repetitive tasks like dishwashing and burger flipping. The industry also looks to be testing how much human interaction consumers desire. At the event, a robot mounted with a tablet demonstrated the ability to assume the role of server. It allows guests to ask questions and order, delivers meals and accepts payment. While far from being a mainstream addition to restaurants in the short term, these robots (along with a wide range of software applications) are likely to change the management of restaurant tasks in the years ahead as developers find ways to make them affordable.
Get the most from your host
If your restaurant is known for its human touch, have you unleashed the full power of your host? The first person your guests meet at your restaurant can help you set the tone for your brand, promote specials and recruit new members to your loyalty program, Foodable reports. (Perhaps that’s one reason why even low-touch restaurants like Eatsa have a host at the door.) Looking to entice guests with your seafood special? If your host can enthusiastically talk about his experience tasting your food, he can plant a seed of interest that can steer a guest’s attention toward specific items when he opens the menu. A host can also help ensure each guest walking in is a happy guest. Extra long wait? Consider having the host offer those guests a complimentary drink. Having your host check in on tables can help boost your loyalty program too. If he asks how a table is doing and everyone loves their meal, he can ask them to sign up for your loyalty program and perhaps sweeten the deal with a free dessert or other promotion.
Prevent cross-contamination from allergens
Even food establishments who respond carefully when guests alert them to allergies can face trouble when trace amounts of allergens find their way into foods. Allergens are a key focus for the Food Safety and Modernization Act and are the leading cause of food recalls, according to a report in Food Safety magazine. The report notes that between 2005 and 2014, 12 million lbs. of food product was recalled due to undeclared allergens, many of which were present because of cross-contact.
Manufacturers and suppliers are in the hot seat when it comes to protecting consumers from allergens, but everyone in the supply chain needs to have controls in place. To protect your facility, Food Safety magazine recommends isolating tools used with allergens or color-coding them, which can help in case of language barriers on your kitchen team and can also make it readily evident when an item is misplaced. Designate specific cleaning equipment, tools and rags for use only on certain equipment or at certain times. Understand the proper protocols for ensuring that the residue of common allergens is thoroughly cleaned from hands and equipment. (For example, according to Food Allergy Research & Education, a study found that running water and soap or commercial wipes can clean peanuts from a person’s hands but antibacterial gels alone will not work. Further, common household spray cleaners and sanitizing wipes could clean peanut residue from surfaces but dishwashing liquid alone could not do it.)
Finally, store allergens in clean, airtight containers away from other foods. If you don’t have sufficient room in your facility for segregated storage, ensure that any foods containing allergens are not stored above non-allergens. Use internationally recognized allergen stickers or color-coding to set these containers apart.
Improving food safety through the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things – the evolving ability of everyday objects to connect to the Internet and communicate with each other – is rapidly showing new applications in the food industry when it comes to ensuring food quality and safety, Hospitality Technology reports. Kitchen equipment fitted with sensors already helps operators ensure food is stored and cooked at the proper temperature. From there, the Internet of Things can help operators make greater use of sensor data by showing them how to optimize their energy use and reduce unplanned downtime in the kitchen.
The benefits are even greater when it comes to the broader supply chain. Hospitality Technology reports that an RFID tag on a case of food could connect to temperature sensors on a truck to ensure the package has been kept at the appropriate temperature throughout its journey, for example. A restaurant could tie its inventory back to records from the distributor to get a complete picture of a product’s life cycle. Further, when recalls interrupt day-to-day operations, operators can receive USDA alerts and advisories so they can quickly identify the origins of contamination and pull products from shelves without delay.
Within foodservice establishments, the Internet of Things can help ensure kitchen staff follow proper protocols for cooking, food storage and handwashing. Via a digital dashboard, operators can see where training is needed or where procedures are falling short. Most operators have not yet taken advantage of these benefits, but as the supply chain grows in complexity, look for the Internet of Things to help you manage food safety from both a prevention and traceability standpoint.
Big-time tech for small restaurants
If you’re a small operation, bringing the latest technology into your restaurant may seem out of reach. But now the company behind Subway’s mobile ordering platform is making that functionality possible for smaller restaurants, Fast Company reports. Avanti Commerce is now able to have a restaurant of any size use its platform, along with the majority of enterprise features and functions it offers, for $125 a month. The restaurant can be in any location and have any amount of traffic. The one caveat is that it must have five locations or more. Assuming the launch with small restaurants goes well, Avanti’s CEO hopes to expand the platform to food trucks as well.
Fresh seafood, from ship to shore
Is your seafood really fresh? A new handheld screening and data collection device developed by Seafood Analytics can say for sure. Food Safety Tech reports that the device uses electrical currents to determine the quality of seafood products at the cellular level. It can measure how much the cells of a fish change between catch and freezing or catch and consumption, for example. Having that information can help everyone along the supply chain better manage factors including inventory, inbound supplier selection and price. The report says Seafood Analytics is currently developing a Certified Quality Seafood Certification that would serve as a seal of approval for suppliers to use (and end users to seek out) to separate the fresh seafood from the not-so-fresh.
Technology raises the bar
The bar is the latest place to make the most of technology in an effort to accommodate rising labor costs and evolving consumer preferences. Pour-your-own facilities are making it possible for consumers to try a taste of a beer, wine, cocktail, Kombucha or cold-brewed coffee that they might not commit to if they had to purchase it in larger quantities. (For example, Restaurant Business reports that Tapster in Chicago offers a tap card, which is linked to the guest’s credit card and charges them by the ounce for beverages at any of 62 different taps on offer.) Other facilities are using actual robots in place of bartenders to measure shots. But as tech takes the place of humans in some areas, it makes them more important in other areas, such as bussing glasses, helping guests use equipment, or even offering classes to teach guests more about the making of beverages currently on trend.
Avocado breeding helps ensure year-round access from within U.S.
Take one look at social media and you’ll see avocados everywhere – the recently opened Avocaderia in Brooklyn, N.Y. has even gambled that consumers will support a restaurant concept centered around the versatile green fruit. NPR reports that Americans consumed two billion lbs. of avocados last year, two-thirds of which were imported, mostly from Mexico. But the uncertainty surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement has made the future of avocados in the U.S. uncertain too. Fortunately, researchers in California may have found a solution just in time, with three new varieties that make a great guacamole, are easy to peel and can withstand the winter frost and summer heat of California’s central valley. (Existing varieties require milder growing conditions.) Further developing these varieties – dubbed GEM, which is already available, Lunchbox, and a third yet-to-be-named variety – could ensure that Americans have year-round access to avocados.
An innovator trusts (too much?) the power of Instagram
Taco Bell is a brand standout for its innovation capabilities – and Instagram is a major inspiration. Business Insider reports that the brand, which is constantly aiming to develop concepts that will generate buzz online, monitors the most-Instagrammed menu items in an effort to create tasty foods that are as photogenic as possible. But success is not all about looks, as it turns out. When Taco Bell launched its new Naked Chicken Chalupa earlier this year, the brand eschewed traditional media advertising and instead relied on pop-up launch parties around the country, where they provided lights and other visual props to encourage consumers to take social media-worthy photos of their Chalupa, then share them (on Instagram, of course). Consumers and media responded passionately, though not altogether positively – and Taco Bell pulled the item from its menu soon after.
Take the right steps after an accident
Accidents happen – even if you have an airtight safety program. Does your team know what to do? An FSR report recommends you quickly asses the need for medical attention – if calling 911 isn’t required, call your insurer’s injured employee hotline (if applicable) or transport the employee to a medical facility. Secure the area with barriers so you can adequately investigate the area and prevent secondary injuries. Collect information for an incident report – not to assign fault but to identify root causes. Maintain a record of the incident using OSHA form 300 and consult your insurance carrier for additional help. Institute a return-to-work program for the employee and ensure it’s flexible and won’t aggravate the injury – less-physical clerical work may be appropriate for a person who injured his back while moving inventory, for example. Finally, reinforce and revise (if needed) your safety program with your team to help prevent future problems.
Build an authentic emotional brand
Even if you weren’t a fan of the hit show “The Golden Girls,” you have likely heard about the recent opening of the New York City restaurant it inspired. As Inc. reports, the restaurant represents “emotional branding at its best,” right down to the color scheme and cheesecake selection. Does your brand hit the right notes? Far more than your logo and look, your brand is about what others are saying about you and the emotions your business evokes in guests. Foodable recommends you start by ensuring your customers know what you do best. Is there a special ingredient or process that makes you different? Your guests should know that and trust they’re seeing the real you when they visit your restaurant and interact with anyone from your team.
A new badge of trust for food transparency
Consumers demand food transparency – and food industry buzz words like “organic” and “sustainable” can make restaurant guests feel good about what they order – but how do consumers know who backs up these claims? Eater Denver reports that a new program, Good Food 100 Restaurants, provides a “badge of trust” that helps educate consumers and recognize chefs and restaurants that are transparent with their purchasing and sustainable business practices.” It’s a rating system designed to demonstrate how restaurant chefs are developing a better food system and supporting good food economies at state, regional and national levels. The effort started in Colorado but is gaining a national following and includes chefs from organizations including Union Square Hospitality Group, Frontera and Bateau.
Nachos get a makeover
Nachos are a food for the times: shareable, customizeable, interactive, comforting, and an appealing foundation for any number of proteins, toppings and spices. What’s more, the dish is evolving on menus well past the salty-chips-and-processed-cheese variety that have long been a staple at arena events. Flavor & the Menu reports that chefs are reinventing nachos in a number of new ways, like the tuna poke nachos at Next Door in Dallas, which include cucumber, pine nuts, wasabi crema and wonton crisps. In Los Angeles, Petty Cash Taqueria’s roasted cauliflower nachos include crema poblano, Jack cheese, rainbow cauliflower, kale and pickled Fresno chiles. Nachos are becoming a platform to show off both regional flavors (think barbecue or grilled shrimp) and global tastes (from Bolognese to béarnaise).
Handheld foods reign
Sandwiches, burgers and other foods consumers can hold in their hands accounted for about one out of every four dollars spent in the foodservice channel in 2016 – that’s $205 billion in sales according to Technomic’s new “Foodservice Prepared Sandwich Category” study. Burgers led with 44 percent of total handheld food sales in the U.S., deli and submarine sandwiches accounted for 13 and 11 percent, respectively, and other favorites included tacos, burritos, breakfast sandwiches and wraps. While 53 percent of handheld sales occurred during lunch, those sales have begun to spread into other dayparts too. In the study, respondents noted that while handheld foods are a natural fit for take-out, the packaging and delivery of these foods need improvement to become greener, more cost effective and capable of maintaining food temperature.
Lights, camera, foodborne illness!
The next time you watch a cooking show, note whether the featured chef follows food safety protocol. As Francine Shaw, president of Food Safety Training Solutions, noted in Restaurant News recently, on-air personalities often skip handwashing, have hair or clothing dangling down near the food they’re preparing, fail to use meat thermometers and often use the same cutting board for vegetables and raw meat. Lax food safety protocol sets a bad example for home cooks and those in the restaurant business who prepare food before an audience (whether on television, via a live demo or simply on a video that goes on the restaurant’s website or Facebook page). Shaw urges chefs to remember safety whenever they’re preparing food – wash hands, avoid cross-contaminating foods, cook food to the appropriate temperature (and keep hot and cold foods at their required temperatures), clean and sanitize all equipment and prioritize safety over fashion.
Utensil design for joyful, mindful eating
New research has found the design of eating utensils impacts consumers’ perceptions of food quality and taste. The men behind it are Andreas Fabian, a PhD, and Charles Michel, chef-in-residence at Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory. They collaborated on a teardrop-shaped glass wand used to eat creamy foods like peanut butter, yogurt or hummus, Fast Company reports. Their goal was to recreate what a person does when eating something so mouth-watering he forgets manners – like licking a finger while cooking or a plate after eating. The utensil Fabian and Michel created, dubbed a Goûte, is actually shaped like a finger. Their research showed that when taste testers ate yogurt with it, they perceived it as being better and creamier. Fabian and Michel started a design studio and are conducting further grant-funded studies to develop new utensil designs aimed at making people more mindful about eating so they choose healthier diets.
Creating an Instagram hit
Searching for a food destined to become an Instagram sensation? Try a kitschy or familiar twist on an unrelated food, give it some interesting color and texture and voila! Note the success of the sushi donut, which vegan cookbook author Sam Murphy claims she invented while playing around with a donut mold last summer, according to the Washington Post. (She presses sushi rice into a mold greased with coconut oil, lets it set, then pops it out and decorates it with salmon, cucumber, avocado, pickled ginger and a range of other ingredients.) The ring-shaped sushi concoctions have recently gone viral on Instagram and a number of restaurants are testing versions to add to their menus.
Better communication via kiosk
Kiosks are getting a lot of play lately as vehicles to help restaurants cut labor costs and speed up service. But Hospitality Technology recently identified some additional benefits for restaurant operators, particularly those that serve diverse populations. The kiosks, supported by customizeable technology, can help restaurant overcome a range of communication challenges they experience with guests. They can offer foreign language and sign language translations, for example, or an easier means for those with physical and mental disabilities to place an order. They can also help you avoid triggering a guest’s allergic reaction by allowing the guest to specify their sensitivities.
Out with the buzzer, in with the phone alert
Disappearing are the days of the black buzzers used to signal to restaurant guests that they have moved up the waiting list and their table is ready. In their place is technology like that of Nowait, a waitlist company that alerts guests on their phones. Skift reports that Yelp Reservations just acquired Nowait in a move to compete with other booking services aiming to help restaurant operators manage their tables. The Nowait app, available on Apple and Android platforms, lets guests browse a list of participating restaurants to check the wait times at each one and add their names, reports SFGate. As they move up the list en route to the restaurant, they receive a notification by text.
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