In my many conversations with food business operators, the topic of food safety costs always seems to come up. To be fair, food safety is not free; a business must invest time and money to establish a good food safety system.
Typical costs include sending staff to food safety training (a little plug for our extremely affordable online food safety training here), buying test strips, thermometers, spending time completing and reviewing food safety records and following up on cleaning schedules and pest control records and many more.
Since operators are already squeezed for time all this work can seem like time stolen away from growing their business. I would argue that this can’t be further from the truth. Any successful food business I’ve ever seen does three things really well:
There are obviously other factors that affect the success of the business, but if a business is doing these three things well, the odds will ever be in their favor. Here is how investing in food safety helps businesses accomplish these three key measures:
Keeps Food Costs Low
The best example of how food safety practices can help food businesses reduce food cost is the First In First Out rule, often referred to by the acronym FIFO. FIFO is a food safety requirement designed to ensure food businesses use the older stock first.
It makes sense of course, you want to use the older food ingredients first so they don’t go bad or in some cases allow harmful bacteria to grow. By using the oldest products first, less food will spoil and less is thrown out – food safety saves the day again.
Another example of food safety practices that help reduce waste is the need for organized labelled food storage. For example, for food to be stored safely in the fridge, it must be covered and protected from contamination, labelled with the expiry date and stored in shelves above the floor. I can probably think of hundreds of incidents where food businesses that I inspected incurred huge losses by not following these proper food storage practices.
One incident in particular stands out – this was a situation that occurred at a fairly large hotel kitchen. The kitchen had a new maintenance person come to do some work on the walk in cooler and shortly after Johnny, the “fresh out of school” maintenance person, had left, the cooks discovered that cooler compressor was “accidently” spilling maintenance chemicals over a stand holding very expensive meat. After they discarded the meat and hundreds of dollars in losses later, the business had to re-evaluate their food safety practices.
Has Repeat Customers
There could be a number of reasons why customers keep coming back to a food business, such as a convenient location, the price is right options and of course finger licking good food. One of those reasons, good quality food is an important factor in repeat customers. In fact, one study showed that the “food quality significantly affects customer satisfaction and customer behavior”. The same study recommends that “managers pay attention to the key food quality attributes that elicit customer satisfaction” (Source: Y. Namkung, S. Jang. “Does Food Quality Really Matter in Restaurants? Its Impact On Customer Satisfaction and Behavioral Intentions” Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research. Volume: 31 issue: 3, page(s): 387-409)
So, what does all this have to do with food safety? Well, food safety is a pre-requisite to food quality. Meaning that food safety controls also has a direct effect on food quality. For example, sourcing food ingredients from an approved food supplier is an important food safety requirement. In this case, approved suppliers are more likely to have higher quality ingredients because again, they are required to maintain basic food safety and sanitation standards.
Another example, is good hygiene and sanitation requirements. A clean well-maintained kitchen, is less likely to cause food spoilage, accidental cross-contamination and other safety issues that will also affect the quality of the food.
In food manufacturing, this is certainly the case as we are seeing HACCP food safety systems merge with quality programs. In my opinion, the same principles apply to the food service environment.
Does Not Cause Foodborne Illness
It goes without saying that poisoning customers is bad for business, however some operators just don’t believe it can happen to them. It’s the “it can’t happen here” myth that scared me the most when I was doing food safety inspections. When operators start to think their business is bullet proof and begin to relax on their food safety checks, that is when the worst happens.
In 2012, the conference board of Canada said about half of all foodborne illnesses (or about 3.4 million cases) happen outside the home at restaurants, retail outlets and other food service facilities. Although some have raised doubts about the accuracy of that number, the message is clear – Canadians are getting sick from eating out.
Even if being implicated in a food borne illness outbreak does not completely destroy the business, the costs are astronomical! The old saying of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly applies. It’s easy to see how food businesses that have built a food safety culture can do better financially in the long term.
I hope this blog post has helped convince you, if you weren’t already convinced, that Food safety is just plain old good business.