September’s Food Safety Month is the perfect time to remind employees to prioritize food safety.

An employee at your restaurant made an innocent mistake: they prepped raw chicken and then sliced watermelon for a fruit salad on that same board. Then, they served the contaminated fruit to guests at dinner service, unknowingly causing a foodborne illness outbreak that sickened dozens of your customers. 

As the restaurant operator, you’re devastated. You pride yourself on always following food safety protocols and protecting your guests. The fallout was immediate and overwhelming. The media ran scathing stories about your staff’s carelessness. Social media erupted with negative posts and harsh comments. Customers vowed to never visit your restaurant again. Sales took a hit. All could have been avoided if your employee had just been more careful …

Similar scenarios play out frequently at restaurants nationwide. Each year, millions of people are sickened from avoidable food safety breaches. Prevent future incidents from happening!

September’s Food Safety Month is the perfect time to remind employees to prioritize food safety and mitigate risks by following these tips:

Use tech tools. Tech tools are instrumental in elevating food safety and reducing risks. Rely on technology to get a holistic view across your organization, accessing key data for more informed decision-making. Digital solutions can also optimize equipment monitoring, temperature checks, inspections, auditing, and other essential food safety tasks.

Prioritize food safety protocols. Make sure all employees follow proper food safety protocols, like cooking foods to proper temperatures, avoiding cross-contamination, sanitizing surfaces and equipment regularly, washing hands often, storing foods properly, conducting proper inspections, etc. Use separate cutting boards, knives, and other equipment to prep raw vs. cooked meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Store raw meat and poultry separately from fruits, vegetables, and other ready-to-eat foods. Cool foods properly before refrigerating them. Store raw proteins on the bottom shelf of the walk-in to prevent cross-contamination from raw juices dripping. Make these rules non-negotiable.

Conduct regular, ongoing training. Prioritize food safety training for all employees. Ensure they understand (and follow) food safety protocols. Shift the way you train and don’t just tell employees what to do. Tell them why to do it. When you explain why it’s so important to follow each specific food safety protocol, your employees will understand the reasoning behind the rules and will be more likely (and more willing) to comply. Role play common scenarios, asking employees how they’d handle different situations. Send food safety reminders directly to employees’ smartphones. If you don’t train your staff regularly, they may take shortcuts or forget important lessons, increasing the chances they’ll make mistakes that may sicken your customers and cause expensive, damaging fallout for your business.

Create a food safety culture. Ensure that your food safety culture starts at the top, with unwavering support from your organization’s leaders. Leaders must demonstrate—through words and actions—that food safety is a priority. Be certain that restaurant leaders “walk the walk” by regularly following proper food safety protocols themselves. 

Avoid careless mistakes. Remind employees that even seemingly “minor” mistakes could sicken (or even kill) guests. For instance, they shouldn’t leave the door to the walk-in open because perishable foods could fall below safe temps. They shouldn’t skip important safety checks, like taking internal temperatures of proteins (with properly calibrated thermometers) after cooking. They must take food allergies seriously and can’t cook a dish in butter for a dairy-allergic guest or garnish a peanut-allergic diner’s meal with a sauce made with peanut butter. 

Work only with safe suppliers. While it’s great that your restaurant follows gold standard safety protocols, that alone is not enough. You must ensure that all your suppliers follow proper safety protocols, as well. A breach anywhere in the supply chain could put your restaurant—and your guests—at risk. Only work with suppliers that prioritize food safety and comply with the strictest food safety rules. Your suppliers should be willing to share their safety certifications. If they aren’t, find new suppliers!

Practice good hygiene. Prevent foodborne illnesses through proper handwashing. Insist that employees wash their hands before working with food, after using the restroom, coughing, blowing their nose, and handling money or chemicals. Proper handwashing means washing hands in hot soapy water for a minimum of 20 seconds to properly kill germs and bacteria. Also, prohibit employees from working when they’re ill so they don’t spread their germs to other employees or guests.

Showcase your commitment. Customers no longer blindly trust that food safety protocols are happening “behind the scenes” in restaurants. Now, they want to see proof that safety protocols are being implemented correctly and consistently, and that all staff members are working together to keep them safe. Promote your commitment to food safety through onsite signage, as well as on your menus, website, and social media platforms. 

Remember that consumers have many choices about where to dine and, increasingly, they’re choosing to support the brands that prioritize food safety. Demonstrate your ongoing commitment to following gold standard food safety protocols to boost key metrics, including sales, profits, positive reviews—as well as customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Dallas Henderson is Director of Business Development at RizePoint, a technology leader in the food safety, quality management, compliance, and social responsibility space. RizePoint’s quality management software solutions help companies, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Marriott, and more, keep brand promises through their quality, safety, and compliance efforts. Customers gather better data, see necessary actions earlier, and act faster to correct issues before they become costly liabilities. Check out RizePoint’s website and/or contact the team to learn how these solutions can help your company.

Expert Takes, Feature, Food Safety