A restaurant’s reputation may take years to build, but one customer getting sick, or worse, even dying, from a foodborne disease can destroy that reputation practically instantly—thanks to the blazing speed of social media. If the restaurant is part of a chain, the reputation damage is inflicted upon the entire chain bearing the name, not just one location.
Unfortunately, as an April 2014 story in Food Quality & Safety reports: “Americans are twice as likely to get food poisoning from food prepared at a restaurant than food prepared at home, according to a new study from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).” According to the CSPI’s food safety director, this ratio has been consistent for years, although there may be many home-based outbreaks that go unreported.
One of the best preventative measures a restaurant can take is to make food safety audits an essential function of its operations. Food safety audits help ensure customers against foodborne illnesses and provide the information restaurants need to undertake corrective action.
Properly designed and implemented food safety auditing allows restaurants to:
- See how well compliance programs are being adopted and followed in all locations;
- Close gaps in corrective action management and improve accountability and responsibility;
- Ensure effective communication with field operators on standards of quality compliance, delivery and urgent directives;
- Revise and enhance assessment programs as the business grows and changes and new quality demands are introduced;
- See the big picture and tell the story of what’s really going on to key stakeholders; and
- Help field operators increase productivity while decreasing errors.
Audit Form Best Practices
Food safety audit forms should enable auditors to give a fair, objective, and consistent assessment of every restaurant. However, companies frequently sabotage their evaluation process with ineffective and inefficient forms. “Death by audit” occurs when organizations capture tons of data but then fail to create any actionable items related to said data.
Companies still stuck in the food safety auditing dark ages (those using Excel spreadsheets and/or pen and paper) tend to collect an abundance of data, but then let it disappear into the proverbial black hole. They may feel good for having done the audit, but unless the necessary corrective actions are executed, reputation and customers will remain at risk.
The following are eight best practices for a food safety audit form.
1. Make questions clear and concise. Food safety audit form questions must have great clarity and zero ambiguity. Auditors should never have to guess what an answer means. Examine your food safety audit form carefully and make sure any ambiguities are removed. You want objectivity, not subjectivity, from the auditor.
For example, would the following question make sense on a food safety auditing form: Are the cinnamon rolls good? Obviously not. Questions about the taste of food don’t belong on a food safety audit form. One person may love the way something tastes, but another may think it tastes horrible. A taste test is not a safety test. No safety issue is being addressed. Instead, ask specific questions about the temperature, color, storage, and size of the rolls.
Use graphics as another communication tool for the auditor. If you’re looking for the temperature, include a bright, clean graphic displaying the proper temperature range. What should properly colored and sized rolls look like? Include pictures of those. This helps the auditor know exactly what to look for during the food safety audit process.