Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant and food service industry employed approximately 11.9 million people in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While these numbers have fallen in recent months, restaurants are beginning to reopen across the country, and we will likely soon reach the pre-pandemic volume of more than 130 million meals served daily in restaurants.
With so many meals, foodborne illnesses and other food safety issues are of concern, which is why foodservice companies put so much effort into food safety training and education.
Chicken Salad Chick is a fast-casual restaurant chain of chicken salad restaurants based in Auburn, Ala., with 139 franchise restaurants and stores in 16 different states. Jim Thompson, VP of operations, says the company has been committed to food quality and safety since its founding in 2008. “From cooking chicken to chilling of product, we educate all employees in the proper preparation of our made-fresh daily food,” he says. “From day one, employees are trained in product handling, and employees specifically working with raw chicken undergo their own individual training.”
As a result, Chicken Salad Chick has established operational procedures and equipment standards based on a hazard analysis of the menu that identified three areas where critical control points were required for food safety: avoiding the potential for cross contamination when handling raw chicken, properly cooking chicken to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and properly cooling prepared chicken salad within a required time.
“To prevent cross contamination, raw chicken is only handled at the end of the prep team’s day, when all other items have been prepared,” Thompson says. “Team members wear plastic aprons and yellow gloves when handling raw chicken and are trained not to touch anything else while wearing these. The yellow gloves serve as a visible reminder and help to reinforce the training they receive. Additionally, a separate cart identified with yellow markings is used when preparing raw chicken, and it is not used for anything else.”
Nancy Ward, chief people development officer at Captain D’s, a chain of fast-casual seafood restaurants headquartered in Nashville, with 539 locations in 25 states, notes that during orientation, the company puts all employees through an efficient course that instills company and federal safety protocols while producing an interactive learning environment. “In the past year, our brand has implemented a new training course for all levels of management, which breaks down the food code into 10 modules covering all federally mandated food safety training,” she says. “The new program cut course completion time in half, making modules more efficient for employees to study and enabling them to virtually apply protocol to Captain D’s scenarios.”
In just a year, the company went from 70% of all managers holding a nationally accredited food safety manager certification to more than 93%. “Captain D’s believes in repeated application to form good habits, exemplified through our monthly safety focus newsletters,” Ward adds. “Some safety focuses have included unloading food in the summer months and storage/food labeling tips.”
Along with these newsletters, each team member of a location receives a daily challenge.” Ward says that, as each employee’s shift is beginning, they are “talked into position” by being given a specific focus on a product or platform that includes food quality and safety. At the end of the shift, they are “talked out of position,” giving the shift leader an opportunity for follow-up and recognition. “To reinforce safety, we believe in rewarding management teams who excel in health inspections with monetary bonuses,” Ward said. “There is also an audit system in place for safety checks, in which each restaurant is reviewed quarterly and annually.”
There are multiple avenues for food safety education available to businesses.