Food businesses face risk every day, with every shift. That means their teams must work proactively to reduce the chances of a foodborne illness incident, security breach, or other crisis. Now, on top of “basic” safety protocols, organizations must also implement COVID-19 protocols, which are ever changing, adhering to local, state, and federal guidelines. Compounding these challenges is the industry-wide staff shortage, which is making it even more difficult for food businesses to operate efficiently and ensure compliance around safety protocols.
Any breach in SOP is cause for alarm. One innocent mistake — like not closing a freezer door properly — could be a huge liability for your business. And mistakes happen, especially if your business is short-staffed or your new employees do not yet fully grasp your safety protocols.
The way operators monitor and mitigate risk varies widely across the industry, with some using paper checklists while others rely on comprehensive digital tools. While operators want to reduce risk, upgrading their antiquated safety systems may not be at the top of their To Do lists, especially as they’re managing unprecedented COVID-related disruptions, devastating economic losses, supply chain interruptions, and a human capital crisis.
It may feel overwhelming to consider purchasing and implementing new tech tools now — with all the other pressing issues demanding attention — but the negative impact of a potential safety breach could be catastrophic, in terms of loss of customer trust, bad press, scathing social media comments, and potential litigation. It’s worth the investment, as tech tools can help reduce risks — and maximize compliance — across your organization.
Food businesses would be wise to:
It takes just one single error to ruin your brand reputation. Your employees might be busy and accidentally skip a line check that results in an unsafe food being served. Requiring tech tools — such as safety checks on a smartphone app vs. a paper checklist — can boost compliance and accuracy, as well as your peace of mind that safety checks were completed properly.
Food safety software can include Bluetooth integrations that continuously monitor temperature sensors in your fridge and freezers and alert staff immediately if they go out of safe ranges. Digital temperature probes enter and track data automatically. Today’s digital solutions allow managers to spot any potential trends with employees mis-entering data or skipping line checks entirely.
Manual processes have major drawbacks, including the inability to see, compile, and analyze data in real time. Businesses that use manual systems may not notice potential risks until weeks, or even months, later after reports have finally been compiled. However, using tech tools to manage data means it’s fast, easy, and accurate to spot — and fix — potential problems before they become huge liabilities.
Automatic, real-time reporting is an essential part of reducing risk. Digital reports allow you to see trends, confirm whether proper protocols are being followed, determine whether anyone is altering data, etc.
Cleanliness has always been an essential part of food safety. Historically, food businesses have conducted cleaning protocols “behind the scenes.” COVID-19 changed this — likely for the long-haul — as customers, vendors, and other key audiences expect and demand to see cleaning being completed properly and continuously.
Likewise, employees, customers, and other key constituents expect COVID protocols to be followed — including masks, social distancing, employee temperature checks, more frequent handwashing, etc. — especially as the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread.
As we’ve seen since March 2020, COVID information and protocols evolve over time, so use technology to ensure that your staff has access to the most updated, accurate recommendations and regulations. Rely on solutions like team communications apps to distribute updates in real time to all staff and keep everyone aligned.
During the pandemic, there has been tremendous turnover in the food industry. As your team onboards new employees, train them on safety protocols to minimize risks and protect your brand. Remember: training can’t be a “one and done” experience, where you provide tons of information on day one and never reinforce it. Instead, use tech tools to provide instant access to materials, reminders, updates, and information in smaller “chunks” so it’s more easily digested. Ensure safety protocols and other relevant information is easily accessible so anytime a question arises, employees have guides at their fingertips.
Some businesses, or employees, may try “cutting corners” because they’re short-staffed, losing money, or for other reasons. Food recalls dropped significantly in 2020, likely because of a combination of fewer inspections, less enforcement, and businesses running with fewer employees. Cutting safety corners may result in food contamination, foodborne illness, and other problems.
Savvy businesses are holding their employees accountable, using tech solutions that provide transparency and accountability. Many businesses are moving past the old honor system, now requiring proof of safety practices to keep their customers, employees, and business safer.
Operators must stay constantly vigilant to reduce or prevent risks, including food safety violations, falsified reports, and security breaches. Tech tools help make operations safer, more efficient, and more profitable — and can reduce a variety of risks that could potentially destroy a brand.