The world is going through an unprecedented time right now…much different than the Great Recession of 2008, and different, but possibly equally as impactful, as WWII. For certain, a situation that no one born after WWII has ever faced. We, as a nation, and the world, are just starting to see the possible economic impact from this global crisis. But it doesn’t take the proverbial “rocket scientist” to already understand, and know, that the “service industry” (think hotels, restaurants, bars, retail stores, convention centers, sports venues, etc.) will be one of the, if not the, hardest hit sectors of the global economy.
“Tried and True” Advice
As the general population struggles to keep up with daily updates and guidance from the combined medical, scientific, and healthcare experts, it can be both confusing and overwhelming to separate fact from fiction from social media rumors and myths. But one of the major items of advice that has held constant since the crisis began is “Wash Your Hands.” That advice has always been a hallmark of the foodservice industry to ensure safe food handling and safe food service to restaurant guests.
Every Step of the Way
That advice also brings up another industry practice that has been, and still is a guiding principle in the foodservice world—the HACCP Plan, or the “Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points” Plan. For anyone who may be unfamiliar with it, a HACCP Plan is basically a step-by-step analysis of each menu item/recipe a foodservice operation offers to its customers that identifies where potential food safety gaps, or “hazards,” could possibly occur during every step of the menu item’s production cycle. And when I say “every step”…I mean everything from the time of delivery of the raw ingredients to the facility, storing them properly, prepping the ingredients, cooking the menu item, holding it for service, serving it to the customer, and storing any leftover food. The analysis and plan not only identify the potential “hazards” along the production/service process, but also inform the foodservice worker how to either correct the situation to bring the food item back into the “safe range” or when to dispose of it altogether.
The HACCP Plan was a huge foodservice industry buzzword back in the 1990’s, and its guidelines were adopted by several states, and even county/city jurisdictions as part of local health codes and foodservice permit requirements. Some counties/cities even required a HACCP Plan to be submitted with final construction drawings as a requirement for a Building Permit to be issued by the local authority. Indeed, I completed several of them for clients at that time to assist them in obtaining the permits they were applying for and because they also wanted to ensure that their staff followed the strictest food handling guidelines the industry had published.
A Goal AND A Must
The healthcare industry in particular was keen on adopting these guidelines and principles since their #1 goal is to ensure the safety and health of all their patients. The HACCP guidelines are still very important, and in daily use, in the healthcare segment of foodservice…both for patient meals as well as food sold in public cafes in hospitals and medical centers. But the HACCP Plan doesn’t only apply to that sector of the foodservice industry.
Any foodservice operation that serves a high volume of food can, and should, strongly consider creating and adopting a HACCP Plan to ensure that production and service staff alike are following safe food handling procedures and guidelines. The current global situation only brings that goal back into clearer focus and importance. Every food operator knows that the surest way to sink their operation is to have an outbreak of foodborne illness tracked back to their facility. Once this happens, the public trust is severely damaged and may possibly never recover.
Consider “high volume” food operations such as an amusement park, a sports stadium/arena, a convention center, an airport, a large convention hotel (think Las Vegas or Orlando), a university campus, a large corporate/office campus, or even a cruise ship. All of these typically have multiple foodservice outlets of various service styles and menu themes…oftentimes served by a single foodservice operator, but sometimes served by multiple operators. Each foodservice outlet has the opportunity to handle and produce food safely…or not. Fulfilling that opportunity for safe food depends on what lengths the management and staff are willing to go to ensure that all food…all along the path from delivery to service…is handled, stored, and produced to ensure its, and the customer’s, safety.
But a HACCP Plan itself cannot actually store food properly, or cook food properly, or hold food properly. That responsibility is up to each facility’s staff and management to take the words from each HACCP Manual and put those words into action each and every day. Constant vigilance and oversight by each staff member, along with daily and hourly checks and updates, must also be a part of the HACCP Plan for the guidelines to be truly effective. If left unused…the best written HACCP Plan is just another “binder on a bookshelf.”
HACCP First and Foremost
The current global health crisis once again shines a bright spotlight on the general population’s health and safety. And nowhere is this more evident than in the foodservice industry that is being tested to its limit right now. With in-restaurant dining closed in many jurisdictions, food-to-go is the only option for many people. To meet this service and delivery style, food must be held and delivered at a safe temperature, and within strict time limits.
But even after this crisis is past us…and we WILL get past this…safe food handling, production, and storage will never go out of style. And the acronym “HACCP” will never be just a “buzzword” again. Stay Safe. Stay positive. Be well.
By: Barry Skown | Director of MAS