The What’s What on Fast Food- Compliancy and Food Safety
Food-borne illness and fast food have always had an interesting relationship. This article will be taking a deep dive into fast food to show everything you need to know about fast food safety.
In 2003, the United States experienced its most widespread case of hepatitis A. The issue began when a Chi-Chi restaurant in Monaca, Pennsylvania, imported tainted green onions from Mexico. The story ran on national news and Chi-Chi never really recovered from the damaged reputation. This shows the extent to which fast food safety affects the industry stakeholders, both consumers, and fast food companies.
Foodborne illness, or food poisoning, has a significant impact in the United States, such that approximately one of six people are affected annually. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food poisoning causes about 128,000 hospitalizations annually, 3000 of which usually result in death. As such, it is paramount for businesses in the food industry to prioritize food safety compliance above all else to avoid contributing to these statistics.
The State of Fast Food
As of 2015, the global fast food franchise industry generated $570 billion in revenue. In the United States, the figure was $200 billion with an expected annual growth of 2.5%. The U.S. has over 200,000 fast food chains, and of these, hamburger fast food chains account for more than 30% of the total industry sales. As the industry continues to expand year after year, so does the possibility of cross-contamination with food products.
In the U.S., Salmonella is the most common known cause of food poisoning hospitalization with over 19,000 annual cases. The CDC Control and Prevention submitted in a 2019 report that the rate of food poisoning has remained unchanged, stressing the need for increased fast food safety practices. Fast food safety and compliance, therefore, remains an essential issue of attention for all stakeholders in the fast food industry.
Food Poisoning in the Fast Food Industry
Throughout the industry’s history, fast food and fast casual restaurants have been responsible for a large number of food-related illnesses - and even deaths.
In 1982, 47 people fell ill after contracting E. coli from eating hamburgers served by McDonald’s. In 2006, a Wendy’s location in Utah served E. coli-contaminated lettuces that resulted in three severe cases of haemolytic uremic syndrome—a condition that causes kidney failure.
In a more recent event in 2015, residents in Simi Valley, C.A. experienced a mysterious norovirus outbreak that got 243 people sick. In that same year, a similar norovirus outbreak occurred in Boston with 143 people falling ill. The two outbreaks were a result of Chipotle employees working while sick. Other events like these have taken place then that have served to remind us of the importance of fast food safety and compliance.
Guidelines for Fast Food Safety Practices
As is common with any business in the food industry, experiences with food poisoning are a major point of concern and consideration which require constant attention to avoid. Foodborne illnesses are preventable and avoidable when restaurants adopt a fast food safety culture. This includes implementing safety tips and protocols, offering food safety education, and holding proper inspections regularly. To ensure appropriate fast food safety culture, restaurants should-
• Start From the Top- When it comes to food safety, organization leaders should lead by example and demonstrate a strong commitment to safety. They should consistently communicate that anything less than 100% compliance would not be accepted.
• Sanitizing Surfaces- All food prep areas, equipment, and other materials that would come in contact or used for preparing food should be properly sanitized. Sanitize drains and trash cans as well.
• All employees should wash their hands regularly before and after any kind of food handling. Employees should also be encouraged to keep nail beds short and trimmed.
• Fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed and separately stored from raw and cooked foods.
• Maintain that internal temperatures of food are kept outside of the danger zone between 40-140F. Utilizing a food thermometer can help ensure the cooked foods being served are at the proper temperatures.
• Pay attention to food recalls that concern food available in your food inventory. This can reduce the risk of serving food which is past its expiration date.
• Educate and train staff on identifying, preparing, serving, and handling of allergy-inducing foods.
Tips for Ensuring Fast Food Safety Compliance
Most American restaurants’ health and safety violations are a result of human error that is caused by improper training. Health department inspection reports of fast food chains may not be sufficient to ensure fast food safety compliance. Therefore, managers must be vigilant in ensuring conformity with fast food safety regulations. This can be accomplished by-
- Reducing Human Error - The process of maintaining compliance is an ongoing issue for many in the fast food space. Issues related to the safety of food arise consistently and are, in large part, due to human error. A great way to ensure a reduction in the number of errors caused by employees is the introduction of a remote terminal unit, or RTU, which delivers a consistent and effective dose of sanitation products with every new application. This helps to maintain that not only are the surfaces being cleaned sanitized but also that customers are not being exposed to large amounts of harmful chemicals.
- Ensure that sanitation and food safety practices are simplified. This can be done through the incorporation of a food safety plan, a sanitation chart or guide or by providing continuous training for employees. Additionally, providing a common standard of proper sanitation practices across the entire company is a good way to maintain a consistent message for staff to follow.
- Following Regional and National Standards - Ensure that you are staying up-to-date on regulatory standards imposed nationally and on a state level. By maintaining an understanding of the rules and regulations enforced by federal and local legislators it limits the possibility of experiencing issues related to lawsuits for improper food safety procedures.
Understanding the Differences between Fast Food and Dine-In Restaurant
Dine-In Restaurants typically handle higher volumes of fresh food inventory, compared to companies in the fast food industry. This is due to the fact that it is common for a restaurant chain to procure their ingredients from local farms and other suppliers to maintain maximum freshness of ingredients when they arrive. These products generally have a shorter shelf-life than frozen or processed products and as such are more susceptible to being contaminated during any stage of the farm-to-table process.
When it comes to fast food, however, the supplies are purchased in larger volumes of prepackaged or frozen foods. These products are usually processed to reduce the risk of contamination and typically require less attention to detail when being prepared. While this can help to lower the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks, there are still risks associated with the quality of the food and nature in which it was packaged and delivered.
By maintaining that any food purchased, whether its frozen, processed or fresh from supplier, is cooked properly and handled by employees with care, can help reduce the risk of food safety related issues.