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National Restaurant Association - Serve fresh fruits and vegetables with confidence: Strategies to reduce food safety risks

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Serve fresh fruits and vegetables with confidence: Strategies to reduce food safety risks



Produce has a strong health and nutrition correlation, but can also be a “significant potential source of foodborne disease,” according to Ecolab’s John Hanlin, who focuses on food safety and public health.  By examining and mitigating the interconnected risks – customer/staff health risk, regulatory risk, legal risk and business/public image – operators can approach produce strategically and build their reputation. 

At the 2013 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, an expert panel covered scientific facts regarding produce safety and offered helpful tips any operator can put into practice to actively manage produce safety and please guests.

Mitigate risk at every step of the supply chain

Many operators are faced with a complex supply chain for produce. However, even farm-to-fork concepts can benefit from revisiting where produce travels. Hanlin divides the supply chain into “upstream” (growing, harvesting, washing, cooling, sorting, packing, transport) and “downstream” (holding, handling, washing, preparing and serving) to identify key inspection points.  Unfortunately, contamination can happen anywhere based on mammals, birds, insects, contaminated agricultural water, worker health and hygiene, unsanitary equipment or tools, etc.  Alex Malone, quality assurance director for YUM! Brands, added that unlike other food groups (e.g. meat, poultry, dairy, etc.), produce doesn’t have a single processing step that can mitigate risk, so an unyielding commitment to safety is key. 

Inspect, test and validate every intervention you can

Malone offered a prime example of how every point along a supply chain requires vigilance.  All of YUM!’s produce loads delivered from suppliers to distribution centers have continuous temperature monitoring devices installed in every truck of produce. Loads that don’t meet the requirements are rejected upon arrival at the distribution center. With inspection and testing, Malone advises: “Don’t be afraid of cost – it may cost you everything [if you don’t]…[but] if we all protect the consumer, we don’t have to worry about our brands. That takes care of itself.”

Know your suppliers – and their suppliers

David Kramer, chef instructor at Culinary Arts College of DuPage, physically inspects trucks when they arrive at his back door. Having established standards and specs for what he receives means he has a standard to which his suppliers (and their suppliers) are held. You can go so far as to visit vendors to inspect their facility; don’t simply rely on word of mouth. Ask what systems are in place for traceability if and when there is a product recall. 

Build strategic alliances

With so much to keep track of, employees need to be coached everyday on food safety basics, such as frequent hand-washing, avoiding cross-contamination and the appropriate process for handling produce.  Sharing the rationale for such focus on food safety (i.e. this keeps guests healthy and encourages a positive association with the restaurant) will help employees more readily understand why the protocol is important. In addition, building a relationship with your health inspector  encourages him/her to be comfortable with your protocol and lets you learn from what they see in their work elsewhere.  After all, health inspectors see the best and worst of what’s out there.


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