Training Department Leadership and Crisis Management in a Food Safety Outbreak: Food for Thought

January 13, 2016 | 923 Views

Training Department Leadership and Crisis Management in a Food Safety Outbreak: Food for Thought

Michele Lange

Director of Training and Development | The Habit Burger Grill

Let’s face it; sometimes eating out is scary, especially with the recent increase in foodborne illness outbreaks mentioned throughout every media and social media outlet. The two most highly-discussed outbreaks to date are E.coli and Norovirus. As I received the latest daily news blast from my favorite industry news outlet, I started to think about how this recent increase of outbreaks could affect our industry as a whole. 

How do these outbreaks affect consumers’ confidence level in food safety? Will we start to see a decrease in people dining out? Will customer complaints increase from people who “think” your restaurant or hotel caused them to become ill? Will regulatory agencies begin placing tougher restrictions on businesses that sell food? Will there be tougher regulations on food producers? 

My question to you is, “If a foodborne illness outbreak happened at your restaurant or hotel are you equipped to handle it?” Do you have a comprehensive food safety training program to prevent an outbreak? Do you have a crisis management plan in place if an outbreak did occur? These are two serious questions to ask yourself and to discuss with your operations and senior leadership teams. 

The training department can take a leadership role by creating training materials and putting crisis management systems in place before a food safety crisis occurs. Below are six topics/practices and emergency procedures you should consider to help your organization respond and recover quickly from a highly-publicized and negative event. 

  1. Crisis Communication and Response
  • Do you have a crisis management plan in place?
  • Who are the stakeholders within your organization?
  • Do you have an effective communication system to reach the stakeholders during business hours and for crises that occur past regular business hours?
  • What is your action plan to debrief all team members at the corporate level and at the individual unit level in regards to a crisis?
  • What is your back up plan if an outbreak occurred? Do you have a call center on retainer that can help you to answer customer calls?     

      2. Traceability

  • In the event of a foodborne illness outbreak, do your vendors have a system in place that can trace back the contaminant to its source?
  • Do you have weekend emergency contact information for your food and beverage vendors? 

      3. Produce Handling and Washing

  • How do your restaurants prep produce? Is washing produce the first prep step?
  • Do you sanitize all equipment and utensils before and after prepping?
  • What safeguards do you have in place to prevent cross-contamination when prepping?
  • Do you have a BOH audit process?
  • Are food safety procedures routinely followed and monitored to ensure there are no short cuts? 

      4.Employee Illness

  • Are your management teams trained to recognize the symptoms of team members possibly affected by Norovirus or E. Coli?
  • Do you have a sick team member policy? What is your action plan at the restaurant or hotel level for team members who do display symptoms of being sick?
  • Do you use symptom surveys with your teams?
  • Do your team members have sick time available to them? 

      5. Regulatory Agencies

  • How can you strengthen your relationship with the health department in your area to share information?
  • Did you know the CDC and FDA can seamlessly trade information? 

      6. The Media

  • What is your crisis response plan to the media?
  • Do you have confidentiality agreements from your vendors? 

This is all “food for thought”. Hopefully you already have many of these systems already in place. If you don’t, please establish them now. Be proactive before you have to react to a crisis!

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