On Wednesday afternoon at the 2022 Food Safety Summit, food safety leaders at nationally recognized restaurant chains gathered to discuss the importance of developing food safety management systems (FSMS), as well as ideas on how to develop FSMS. The presenters included Hal King, Ph.D., Managing Partner at Active Food Safety; Steven Lyon, Ph.D., Senior Principal Lead of Food Safety at Chick-Fil-A Corporate; Ryan Dittoe, Director of Restaurant Food Safety and Quality Assurance at Chipotle Mexican Grill; and John Zimmerman, Vice President of Quality Assurance and Food Safety at First Watch Restaurants.
The Importance of FSMS in Restaurants
Dr. King opened the session by explaining why the restaurant industry should focus its efforts on developing FSMS. “The prevention of foodborne disease outbreaks in restaurants must be a national priority,” Dr. King said. He also asserted that more than 60 percent of foodborne illness cases in the U.S. are associated with food served at restaurants. Dr. King explained that persistent pathogens can exist in a restaurant and cause sporadic illnesses, even if those cases are not linked to an outbreak and the restaurant is unaware of the illnesses its food may be causing. For this reason, Dr. King stressed the need for “a paradigm shift in how we manage hazards in restaurants.”
Dr. King also outlined the sources of food safety hazards in restaurants. He asserted that contributing factors—specifically, contamination of surfaces and the hands of employees—cause 81 percent of foodborne illnesses.
Dr. King explained that Hazards and Critical Control Points (HACCP)-based FSMS are vital in managing foodborne illness risks. While there are three steps in creating a HACCP-based system (preparatory, hazard analysis, and monitoring and verification), Dr. King emphasized the third step, monitoring and verification, as particularly critical.
Dr. King provided an example of how a restaurant can develop a HACCP plan for every menu item. He recommended beginning by defining the hazards that exist, determining what controls can be implemented at each process step, and monitoring to ensure that controls are executed. Additonally, Dr. King suggested that restaurants should monitor prerequisite control points, such as employee personal hygiene, physical barriers (e.g., doorknobs and gloves), and cleaning and sanitation management.
Methods that restaurants can use in their FSMS were also discussed. For example, restaurants should ensure that each facility is organized in a way that establishes the proper flow of food. Dr. King also suggested leveraging technology to help train employees, monitor food safety objectives, and ensure the execution of controls. Dr. King finished by sharing that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found that restaurants that employ all three HACCP steps carry significantly less food safety risk than restaurants that do not.
Raw Chicken Risk Reduction via Chick-Fil-A’s FSMS
Mr. Lyon took the stage to discuss how Chick-Fil-A reduces the food safety risks of raw chicken with FSMS. “There is no end game in food safety. There is always going to be a need for food safety, and that’s why FSMS is so critical,” he said. Mr. Lyon also expressed his belief that achieving zero risk is impossible, so it is crucial to seek easy, simple, and convenient solutions that restaurants can successfully and consistently use.
Mr. Lyon said that FSMS must be risk-based, people-led, and people-focused. He shared that Chick-Fil-A’s best locations have dedicated leaders in place who take ownership of the location’s food safety. Mr. Lyon also stated that FSMS should be focused on protecting the health of the customer and restaurant team members.
Mr. Lyon discussed Chick-Fil-A’s “Food Safety 5,” which he described as a simple means to execute FSMS, and how Chick-Fil-A utilizes the five areas:
- Health and hygiene: Designate specific people and equipment for high-risk functions
- Cross-contamination: Isolate risk areas and “reduce the raw footprint” by designing a sensible kitchen flow
- Cleaning and sanitization: Ditch the bucket-and-rag cleaning method in favor of disposable wipes, surface sanitizers, and third-party cleaning services
- Time and temperature: Leverage technological tools to measure behaviors, monitor equipment, and keep track of processes
- Culture of care: Cultivate a company culture that values a commitment to food safety, consistency in FSMS, and incremental improvement of food safety behaviors and outcomes.
FSMS at First Watch
Mr. Zimmerman spoke about First Watch’s budding food safety efforts and FSMS. Maturity is an important theme when discussing food safety programs and FSMS, according to Mr. Zimmerman. “It is an evolution…the maturity and development of your program over time,” he said.
Mr. Zimmerman outlined First Watch’s holistic view of FSMS, which takes into account many factors. For this presentation, he focused on standard operating procedures (SOPs) and process HACCP, training, and monitoring. Mr. Zimmerman described FSMS at First Watch as an “integrated strategic approach” that follows a path: developing SOPs, instating sufficient communication and training of SOPs, clearly defining responsibilities, providing employees with the tools necessary to achieve success, monitoring and auditing food safety objectives, and measuring and reviewing data collected from audits.
Mr. Zimmerman also described First Watch’s FSMS design principles as follows:
- Accountability for food safety must be clear at all levels
- Consistent execution of an efficient and effective model must be possible
- Awareness and training of food safety among employees must come first
- Proactive food safety plans must be in place to allow for active managerial control over foodborne illness risk factors
- Commitment to food safety must be woven into the organizational culture.
An organization does not have to re-invent the wheel when developing FSMS and SOPs, according to Mr. Zimmerman. He explained that First Watch’s SOPs are based on FDA food codes, the ISO 22000 FSMS, regulatory guidelines, sound science, and industry best practices. When an organization’s FSMS are based on established and reputable resources, “you can’t go wrong,” Mr. Zimmerman said.
Mr. Zimmerman also stressed the importance of formally documenting SOPs for every predictable situation, as well as training employees on SOPs. He suggested developing a matrix by role for clarity on employee food safety training. Effective training begins by identifying which employees should receive what training based on their responsibilities, clearly defining the process and methods, providing educational materials to employees, and ensuring demonstration of knowledge with assessments or observational checks.
First Watch also utilizes technology to carry out its monitoring programs. For example, First Watch requires daily e-HACCP checks, quarterly self-audits, quarterly third-party audits, and periodic health inspections. First Watch incentivizes favorable outcomes by tying food safety audit scores to managerial bonuses, as well.
Active managerial control is another important element of First Watch’s FSMS, which is defined by the ability to be proactive rather than reactive. Active managerial control is driven by SOPs, training, monitoring, and culture. Mr. Zimmerman also suggested that restaurants should define key performance indicators so that data on FSMS can be collected, shared, and evaluated.
Mr. Zimmerman ended his presentation by emphasizing the importance of food safety culture. At First Watch, food safety culture is built on leadership, communication, commitment, resources, and risk awareness.
Illness Monitoring with FSMS at Chipotle
Mr. Dittoe next discussed how Chipotle uses illness monitoring as an FSMS. Chipotle has a strong employee illness policy that is documented and reinforced through training. Employees—and visitors, such as vendors—who are ill are not allowed to enter the workplace.
Chipotle requires employees and visitors to pass wellness checks before they are allowed to enter the back of house. If an employee does not pass a wellness check or calls in sick, their illness is reported to corporate, which opens a case for the illness. If necessary, Chipotle will connect the affected employee with a clinical team to monitor the case and gather information. From there, Chipotle will decide if a remediation protocol is required, and escalate the protocol when appropriate. Chipotle also follows this same system for customer-reported illnesses.
Mr. Dittoe explained the various benefits to Chipotle’s illness monitoring. First, the illness monitoring program allows for instant visibility to potential issues. It also allows the company to quickly move through remediation protocols and enables comprehensive data tracking and monitoring.
Like the previous presenters, Mr. Dittoe highlighted the importance of food safety culture. “If we do not have a culture to support [FSMS], then we are not driving out the risk,” he said.
The 2022 Food Safety Summit is taking place in person at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois from May 9–12. Stay tuned for more conference coverage!