Just one food poisoning case can have far-reaching consequences
Food poisoning: it's a persistent problem that continues to plague this country. According to FoodSafety.gov, 48 million Americans get sick with food poisoning every year. Of those, 3,000 will die. Those numbers are staggering for an issue that's so easily preventable.
To combat food-borne illnesses, the foodservice industry has standardized Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), the processes helping to ensure not only that food is cooked thoroughly, but also that it's held at temperatures necessary to prevent pathogens from entering it. These routine process checks were developed years ago in a coordinated effort from Pillsbury and NASA to make sure the food going to space met the strictest guidelines. Now they have become a standard practice in foodservice everywhere. The regulations are endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Advisory Committee for Microbiological Criteria for Foods, and the Codex Alimentarius. While HACCP processes are good, the way in which many foodservice establishments maintain their logs is not.
Many kitchens keep track of their HACCP compliance with a notebook or clipboard. Taking and transcribing manual readings leaves lots of room for errors and omissions to cause problems for your customers and your business. Here’s a look at what could go wrong.
Records Get Lost
HACCP temperature records are often kept in a disorganized pile in the manager’s office. While everything undoubtedly has its place, it’s easy to lose something like a small scrap of paper among the piles of receipts, paychecks, and whatever else may be lying around. Really, the question isn’t if a day’s worth of records will be lost, but when.
Readings Aren't Always Done Correctly
With so much going on in the kitchen, it’s likely that the manager doesn’t have the time to oversee every HACCP temperature reading. That means some of the lesser tasks get delegated to other team members who might not be as proficient in recording HACCP data. Are you willing to bet your restaurant on the assumption that your back-of-the-house staff is taking every reading and logging it accurately?
A lot of things can happen in a kitchen that could threaten the safety of your paperwork. Whether by fires or floods, once your HACCP readings are destroyed, they’re gone, and you’ll have nothing to show when the health inspector comes around.
This is especially troubling. Falling behind on your HACCP temperature readings could cause you to try and estimate what they were. As a result, you may be recalling false readings and submitting them to the FDA, which would be used against you if someone were to become ill from eating the food at your establishment. It’s one thing to misplace or misread HACCP records every now and then, but false records that cover yourself at the expense of your customers can make everyone sick.
These risks used to be routine, but technology now offers a solution. Automating your HACCP temperature recording process with a system of remote monitors, such as Kitchen Brains’ RM-200, maintains tracking of your food and storage temperatures 100 percent of the time. Records, kept digitally, are accessible from “the cloud” either on premises or from a central location. It's a feature particularly suited to multi-unit franchises or multiple foodservice locations. Readings are never lost, and no loose paper trail is needed.
Additionally, if temperature readings don't meet your established guidelines, you can be immediately notified to correct the problem, rather than finding out hours or days after a breach happens. If a walk-in freezer malfunctions overnight, you can fix the problem before it costs you all of your inventory. Automation ensures that the product you’re storing, cooking, and serving is worthy of your establishment.
Of course, we’ve gone through what can happen with a manual record of your HACCP temperature compliance. But, you might ask, what’s really the worst that could happen?
Sick Customers Never Come Back
It just takes one instance of a food-borne illness to repel customers from your restaurant or franchise for good. Word spreads quickly, and soon the customer's friends are avoiding you as well. In the Internet age, every negative experience with a restaurant is amplified by reviews on websites like Yelp, not to mention stories that spread across Facebook and Twitter. Depending on the virility of the incident and the influence of the customer, this could result in a major drop in sales.
Really Sick Customers Seek Legal Action
If a customer incurs any medical expenses due to sickness contracted at your location, you’ll probably end up footing the bill, and then some. A disgruntled customer could sue you to cover medical bills, lost wages, and general damages. A lawsuit could total hundreds of thousands of dollars. Before things got out of hand, you'd want to reach a settlement, but even that would cost you.
Furthermore, once you’ve had to pay for negligence of any kind, your insurance rates will skyrocket, amounting to thousands more dollars you can expect to pay annually. Interestingly enough, an automated HACCP temperature monitoring system can lower your insurance rates on certain liabilities like inventory spoilage and replenishment.
Really, Really Sick Customers Can Kill Your Business
This is the worst-case scenario. If one person or a group of people happens to get extremely sick due to undercooked or improperly stored food at your restaurant, you can make going-out-of-business arrangements. Once the media gets ahold of the story, customers will stay far away. That's if the health inspector doesn’t shut you down first. The only people coming through your doors will be lawyers seeking to recoup damages. This nightmare scenario leaves staff jobless and proprietors in debt without a business, all of which could have been avoided with proper HACCP temperature and safety checks.
It may seem far-fetched, but it has happened before and it will happen again. Thankfully, technology makes it easier to avoid becoming the case example people point to when they say, “We don’t want that to happen to us!” Before a catastrophe changes the way the industry does business, keep your kitchen ahead of the curve with a remote monitoring system like Kitchen Brains’ RM-200, which allows you to wirelessly sense, collect, record, and alert critical temperatures related to your business. It could save your customers’ lives (and your livelihood) while reducing your liability.
The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.