The catering industry is considered to be one of the largest sectors of the food industry, with an estimated value of over $516.8 billion in 2020. The catering sector is set to grow at a rate of 4.5 percent between 2021 and 2026 and is predicted to reach a value of over $672.9 billion by 2026.1
However, it is prudent to consider how many food safety incidents occur in the catering industry. This sector is known for being labor heavy, which means that the risk of food safety incidents occurring due to human error increases significantly. The majority of the burden of solving and preventing these food safety incidents from occurring in the first place falls on the food safety professionals working in the sector.
Lack of Food Safety Culture and Management Commitment
The biggest challenge for food safety professionals in the catering sector is the lack of food safety culture in the workplace. In a labor-heavy industry such as catering, management commitment to food safety is crucial, and this commitment must be demonstrated to other employees in the workforce. Display of management commitment helps employees better comprehend the scale of the industry and the food safety risks they are managing on a daily basis.
An example of management commitment could be a simple announcement to employees about the implementation of a food safety policy, regular walk-throughs of production facilities, or in some cases, conducting monthly or quarterly audits to help reinforce the observations noted in formal audits and inspections.
One of the most important roles of a food safety professional in the catering sector is the monitoring of processes that occur within the facility; these processes range from receiving and storage to cooking and service. In large-scale facilities, close, in-person monitoring of all processes may not be practical or even possible; this has the potential to become an issue in cases where a root cause analysis for certain customer complaints must be conducted. The key to solving this issue lies in a food safety professional's most formidable weapon: training! Trusted supervisors should be trained in food safety and hygiene, and then stationed at different points in the facility to help give food safety professionals a "bird's-eye view" of all processes that occur within a facility at any point in time.
To illustrate, consider the example of a 10,000-square-foot catering facility hosting two separate production areas within its compound. Monitoring cooking temperature limits and the cooking process in these two separate production areas would prove to be almost physically impossible. In this scenario, a food safety professional's best option would be to appoint two trusted and trained supervisors in each production area, and have them monitor the process and document it in real time. Verification of the temperatures and process can then be conducted by the food safety professional to validate the overall process. Moreover, this strategy becomes more practical as the number of facilities under a food safety professional's care increases.
Training and Attrition of Employees
Building on the importance of training employees in food safety and hygiene, the issue of attrition comes to mind: In a labor-heavy industry such as catering, training staff in basic food safety and hygiene plays a large role in the overall food safety culture of the workplace. In a scenario where trained employees terminate their employment for various reasons and new, untrained staff are introduced on a regular basis, how does a food safety trainer maintain the same standard of food safety in the face of frequent turnover? The answer is not always straightforward, but a solution does lie in the creation of a stringent training program.
An effective training program for a catering facility consists of daily safety briefings at the start of the production cycle, where personal hygiene and jewelry policy can be enforced. Conducting refresher training in food hygiene on a monthly basis in a classroom setup will help reinforce food safety standards for all employees, old and new. Additionally, all new employees should be contractually obligated to undergo a food safety and work safety orientation. This orientation should cover basic food hygiene, such as the company personal hygiene policy and production area dos and don'ts. Furthermore, appointing employees who are well-versed in food safety policies as training mentors would give new employees a chance to interact and understand the standards from the perspective of a seasoned employee.
Complaint Handling and Traceability
Complaint handling is a predominant aspect of a food safety professional's job description; however, it is important to keep in mind that the nature of complaints that might be received in the catering sector may be in stark contrast to those received in other sectors (e.g., manufacturing). The catering sector produces different kinds of products on an almost hourly basis, which greatly increases the number of ingredients used and even the number of employees involved in every level of production, which leads to difficulty in conducting traceability and root cause analysis exercises where a singular product is concerned. To circumvent these issues in the case of a customer complaint, it is essential that:
- All recipes used for a particular product be standardized
- Chefs and production staff are trained on traceability protocols
- Labeling of all ingredients with necessary expiration date details, etc., is conducted thoroughly.
Ensuring that all staff within a catering facility are aware of these instructions can help make the root cause analysis process quicker and more efficient, resulting in the consequent upkeep of customer satisfaction standards.
It is easy to assume that the catering sector is prone to challenges when compared to the larger framework of the food industry. In many cases, the size of the labor force and the subsequent risk of human error involved in catering can seem overwhelming. Given the pervasive management commitment issues, the types of complaints received, and the extensive training needs, the issues that a food safety professional faces in the catering sector may be vastly different from other sectors of the food industry. However, with careful consideration and the help of other departments, satisfactory solutions that adhere to food safety requirements can be created and implemented effectively.
- Expert Market Research. "Global Catering Services Market Report and Forecast 2022–2027." https://www.expertmarketresearch.com/reports/catering-services-market.