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Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Blight and Plight of Restaurants

Challenges Faced by Restaurants and Similar Food Outlets

The well reported E. coli outbreak at Chipotle restaurants is by no means going to be the last of such cases. There is no restaurant that can boast about having a handle on preventing situations like this. With these incidents, the quick solutions that are often suggested by some food safety experts to restaurants include the implementation of effective HACCP food safety programs and the training of employees. These are good suggestions in theory. They are not easy fixes for restaurants as some proponents seem to make them.

HACCP implementation is a tried and tested solution for the food industry in general but it fails too frequently in a restaurant setting. The suggestions that restaurant management must be committed to HACCP and train their employees on HACCP principles, as well as the stipulation that employees must keep HACCP records are good suggestions. Unfortunately, they do not always work as smoothly as suggested even where intentions are good. Where efforts are half-hearted, the implementation of HACCP tends to be a restaurant’s undoing. It may sound almost sacrilegious to say this, but HACCP can even make matters worse for a restaurant or any food establishment if implemented with simplistic assumptions. This is particularly so if the HACCP program is implemented only as a window-dressing “demonstration of due diligence”. This is often the case. Food establishments tend to do whatever it takes to "just pass third party audits or inspections". Passing third party audits or being "certified" or having inspection pass grades is presumed by too many people in the industry as the goal to pursue. HACCP does not derive its validity from certification but from its effective implementation.
A restaurant or a food establishment must build the right foundations before or while implementing HACCP:
The foundations that are needed go far beyond the usual HACCP pre-requisite programs that are quite limited in scope. HACCP is not a magic potion or a panacea and should not be viewed or implemented as such in any setting, much less in a restaurant setting. There are at least three significant but solvable challenges faced by restaurants that can quickly undermine a theory-based implementation of the HACCP concept. Since HACCP itself does not address these challenges, they are ever poised to derail any due diligence that is purported to be demonstrated through the implementation of a HACCP program. Unless these challenges are properly addressed, even the most perfectly documented HACCP program with consistent records quickly becomes useless. Failure is almost inevitable if these common challenges faced by many restaurants are not addressed prior to, or concurrently with the development of a restaurant’s HACCP Program.
The “Busy Times of Day” Challenge
If you run a restaurant, you probably already know this all too well. Precautions tend to go out the window during the busy times. This creates ample opportunities for undesirable incidents to occur at the worse times. With the increased number of patrons causing the restaurant to be busy, one is not sure whether to see it as a blessing or a curse. The chances are that much increased for undesirable incidents to actually affect more patrons. With more people likely to be affected, it goes without saying that this expands the scope of the negative publicity and increases the liability for restaurant owners and managers. This challenge is solvable but not through a simplistic implementation of HACCP.
The “I Need the Money” Challenge
Another solvable challenge is well reported. One such report is provided in this International Business Times article:
Financial pressures often force restaurant employees to go to work even at those times when they are most likely to spread illness-causing germs. They would go to great lengths to hide their illness and go to work. 

The Rapid Employee Turnover Rate Challenge
Many fast food restaurants employ students who, as a matter of course, must leave to pursue their dreams. Where the employees are not students, many are in a perpetual state of looking for “the better job” elsewhere. The food safety challenges with rapid turnover rates need no further introduction. As trained employees are lost, the hiring and training of new employees is rushed. Inconsistencies in employee practices are heightened by the inexperience of employees who have not done the job for long enough. On top of these challenges, employees with all sorts of negative attitudes may end up being hired because of the hasty hiring process. These are soon fired and the cycle continues. Does HACCP solve these challenges? Of course not! Instead, these challenges render HACCP useless if they are not effectively addressed.
Before and Beyond HACCP
To successfully combat these situations and avoid the associated liabilities, restaurant owners and managers need to develop strategies that are unique to their situations and experiences. This can be done by conducting relevant studies and implementing positive culture-building strategies. These strategies make HACCP work. Without them "HACCP" can quickly become a "HANDICAP". If you run a restaurant or work in one and you have questions about how to implement effective strategies for food safety and quality success, your best bet is to adopt the  Safety, Security and Quality Assurance (SSQA) way of thinking.
The recommendations in this post are not “easier said than done”. They are easier done with SSQA. Once you have learned and adopted the SSQA concept and its Difficult-to-Manages Situations (DMS) HACCP provisions, your only regret will be that you did not know about this concept sooner. The good news is that this regret quickly turns into re-assurance as your SSQA implementation efforts are rewarded. Unlike the common practice of implementing HACCP that is mostly demonstrated and assessed on paper, the results of SSQA implementation are seen and assessed from the product perspective. Products must actually be safe as the proof of success. Complete documentations and copious amount of records mean nothing until the product is actually proven to be safe from reported consumer experiences. As such, the joy of the SSQA journey increases for a company in the SSQA-D as time passes.
The following news items may be disturbing for some to read:

Waiters: Listen carefully to avoid being sued - Quebec waiter arrested after seafood puts allergic customer in coma - 

 Posted By Felix Amiri
Felix Amiri is the current Food Sector Chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection

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