The Best Way to Protect Your Restaurant from Outbreaks

Respro Food Safety: Foodborne Illness Response Plan

Today there was yet another restaurant outbreak in the news. Carbon Live Fire Mexican Grill in Chicago is suspected in a Shiga toxin-producing E. coli outbreak affecting at least 25 people. Not only that, on June 29, the City of Boston closed the Thai Dish Restaurant for too many food safety violations. Looking at these two examples of foodborne illness outbreaks, they are independent organizations that most likely won’t survive the financial and liability impact of closures and sick customers. Given the high stakes, how could they put themselves in this position?

Local independent restaurants across America are having a hard time effectively managing food safety. Many of them don’t have the resources or infrastructure in place to keep their food safety standards where they need to be. Most chain restaurants have already been through an outbreak, or six (Chipotle), and understand how important it is to have sound food safety practices in place. Unfortunately, it takes a crippling outbreak or health department closure for restaurants to wake up and set clear policies to address food safety challenges. It is financial suicide not to.

At Respro Food Safety, we help our clients avoid these outcomes by helping them plan, adopt, and verify sound food safety practices. The strategy is to be preventive rather than reactive. You don’t have to be a client to achieve the same goals. If you can adopt policies that address critical areas of your restaurant, you will give your organization the best chance to succeed and conquer the toughest food safety challenges. The first step is to plan using the list below.

  1. Temperature control: Have a comprehensive temperature monitoring program. This can be an automated program or as simple as delegating staff to do regular unit checks, including log sheets that can be filed for future review.
  2. Policies: Have written policies that address critical areas that most likely lead to foodborne illness such as food storage, personal hygiene, hand washing, cold/hot holding, cooling, cleaning, reheating, sanitizing, chemical usage and storage, cross-contamination, proper cooking temperatures, and approved food sources. Consult the FDA food code for specific requirements.
  3. Foodborne illness response plan: Establish a foodborne illness response plan that addresses how complaints are handled, both valid and invalid. This includes a screening questionnaire, collecting data, and response.
  4. Verification: It’s important to test your policies with regular audits. You can do them internally or higher a third party. Of course we regularly audit all of our clients’ restaurants to keep them on track.
  5. Corrective action: Plans should be in place to troubleshoot or address problems that come up from the audits or through day-to-day activity.

If a restaurant can plan, adopt, and verify policies to address these areas, it will greatly increase the possibility of not having to deal with outbreaks or be subject to enforcement actions from the local health department. As technology continues to push the envelope, more companies will be coming into the restaurant space to help operators accomplish these goals, with Respro Food Safety leading the way. In the meantime, there are resources that are already available to help you, such as your local health department, online websites hosted by the FDA, or give Respro a call. We would love to help you plan, adopt, and verify a sound food safety policy, and help you to be profitable and successful.

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