Tag Archives: COVID-19

Steven Sklare, Food Safety Academy
FST Soapbox

What Is Your Company’s Level of Digital Risk Maturity?

By Steven Sklare
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Steven Sklare, Food Safety Academy

The digital transformation of food safety management programs is a common topic of discussion today, across the full range of media including print, blogs, websites and conferences. It has also been generally acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly accelerated the adoption of various digital technologies. However, let’s be clear, COVID-19 may have accelerated the process, but the process was under way as the only way for food companies to efficiently cope with the increase of required compliance documentation for regulatory bodies, such as FDA, USDA, etc., non-regulatory organizations such as GFSI, and customer specific requirements. COVID-19 has added a sense of urgency, as the fragility of both domestic and international supply chains has been exposed with long-term sources of ingredients or equipment being cut off overnight. We must also overlay the need to manage food safety risk and food fraud vulnerability in real time (or even predict the future, which will be discussed further in a future article). The food industry has also had to adjust to dealing with many aspects of work and production without typical face-to-face interaction—a norm of operating within the environment of a global pandemic over the past two years.

What is not clear, however, is the meaning of “digital transformation” or the “digitization” of a food safety management program. What is not clear is what these terms mean to individual organizations. The frenzy of buzzwords, “urgent” presentations, blogs and webinars help to create an improved level of awareness but rarely result in concrete actions that lead to improved results. I admit to being guilty of this very hyperbole—in a previous article discussing “Chocolate and Big Data”, I said, “If a food organization is going to effectively protect the public’s health, protect their brand and comply with various governmental regulations and non-governmental standards such as GFSI, horizon scanning, along with the use of food safety intelligent digital tools, needs to be incorporated into food company’s core FSQA program.” Sounds great, but it presupposes a high level of awareness of those “digital tools”. What is not clear to many organizations is how to get started and how to create a road map that leads to improved results, more efficient operations and importantly, to ongoing improvement in the production of safe food.

Addressing a new concept can be intimidating and paralyzing. Think back to the beginning days of HACCP, then TACCP, then VACCP, and post FSMA, preventive controls! So, where do we start?

Nikos Manouselis, CEO of Agroknow, a food safety data and intelligence company with a cloud-based risk intelligence platform, Foodakai, believes the place to start is for food companies to perform an honest, self-assessment of their digital risk maturity. Think of it as a digital risk maturity gap analysis. While there are certainly different approaches to performing this self-assessment, Agroknow has developed a simple, straightforward series of questions that focus on three critical areas: Risk monitoring practices and tools; risk assessment practices and tools; and risk prevention practices and tools. The questions within each of these areas lead to a ranking of 1–5 with 1 being a low level of maturity and 5 being a high level of maturity. One of the goals of the self-assessment is to determine where your company stands, right now, compared to where you want to be or should be.

While this is not a complete nor exhaustive process, it helps to break the inertia that could be holding a company back from starting the process of digitizing their food protection and quality systems, which will allow them to take advantage of the benefits available from continuous monitoring of food safety risks and food fraud vulnerabilities, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics.

Alert

Family Dollar Recall Highlights Need for Sound Pest Management Plan

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Alert

After finding evidence of rodent infestation during an inspection of a Family Dollar distribution facility in Arkansas, the FDA warned the public of usage and consumption of products purchased at certain stores from January 1 through present time. The affected products, which include food, were distributed to Family Dollar stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

“Families rely on stores like Family Dollar for products such as food and medicine. They deserve products that are safe,” said Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, FDA, Judith McMeekin, Pharm.D. in an agency press release. “No one should be subjected to products stored in the kind of unacceptable conditions that we found in this Family Dollar distribution facility. These conditions appear to be violations of federal law that could put families’ health at risk. We will continue to work to protect consumers.”

The FDA inspection followed a consumer complaint and found both live and dead rodents, rodent feces and urine, and evidence of rodent presence, along with dead birds and bird droppings, throughout the facility in West Memphis, Arkansas. After fumigating the facility, 1100 dead rodents were recovered. FDA’s review of company records also revealed a history of infestation, with more than 2300 rodents collected between March 29 and September 17, 2021.

Among the range of hazards associated with rodents include Salmonella.

Family Dollar, Inc. initiated a voluntary recall of the FDA-regulated products that were stored and shipped from the infested facility. The company states that it is unaware of any reports of illnesses related to the recall.

COVID-19 has not slowed down pests, and the last thing a company needs is a failed audit due to preventable pest issues.

 

Rick Biros, President/Publisher, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC
Biros' Blog

What Is the Current State of the Food Safety Industry and Where Is It Going?

By Rick Biros
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Rick Biros, President/Publisher, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC

COVID-19’s impact on the food safety community has been significant and its impact will continue to be felt for years.

While FDA inspections and supplier audits are resuming, one cannot assume that the food industry is going back to 2019 or even that it should. It’s time for a food safety reboot or Food Safety 2.0.

Call it what you want, the industry must not only adapt to the “New Normal” but strategize on how to navigate through new challenges, including supply chain capacity and diversity of capacity, workforce welfare and retention, food defense and cybersecurity, food integrity, increased need for traceability, climate change’s impact on food safety, new challenges in supplier audits and compliance, mentoring and developing the future FSQA Leaders and lastly, the next regulations.

The goal now is not to get food safety back to 2019 levels but to build it better. These issues must be discussed among peers and best practices must be shared. You can’t do that in a webinar or in the traditional conference setting of didactic “death-by-PowerPoint” lectures.

To help facilitate this much needed critical thinking and meeting of the minds, the 10th annual Food Safety Consortium Conference, managed and curated by Food Safety Tech is back to an in-person format, October 19–21, 2022 at the Hilton Parsippany, New Jersey (20 minutes from Newark Liberty Airport and 29 miles outside on New York City).

With a capped audience of 250, the 2022 Food Safety Consortium Conference program has been designed to encourage true peer-to-peer networking and sharing of best practices. The program features many discussion groups including “The Days FSQA Professionals Fear the Most,” “Strategic Challenge: Engagement of Management” and “What is the current state of the food safety industry and where is it going?”

You will not just attend the Food Safety Consortium, you will actively participate in the program that features strategic and critical thinking topics that have been developed for both industry veterans and future FSQA Leadership.

I hope you can join us and participate in the meeting of the minds in October.

Food Safety Consortium

10th Annual Food Safety Consortium Back In-Person with New Location and Focus

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

EDGARTOWN, MA, Feb. 23, 2022 – Innovative Publishing Company, Inc., publisher of Food Safety Tech, has announced the dates for 2022 Food Safety Consortium as well as its new location. Now in its 10th year, the Consortium is moving to Parsippany, New Jersey and will take place October 19-21.

“COVID-19’s impact on the food safety community has been significant and its impact will continue to be felt for years,” said Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing Company and director of the Food Safety Consortium, in his blog about the current state of the food industry. “The goal now is not to get food safety back to 2019 levels but to build it better. These issues must be discussed among peers and best practices must be shared. This year’s event will help facilitate this much needed critical thinking and meeting of the minds.”

The 2022 program will feature panel discussions and concurrent breakout sessions intended for mid-to-senior-level food safety professionals that address important industry issues, including:

  • C-Suite Communication
  • Employee Culture
  • What is the State of Food Safety and Where is it Going?
  • Audits: Blending in-person with Remote
  • Quality 4.0: Data Analytics and Continuous Improvement
  • Digital Transformation of Food Safety & Quality
  • Technology: How Far is Too Far?
  • The Days FSQA Folks Fear the Most
  • FSQA’s Role in Worker Rights and Conditions
  • Analyzing and Judging Supplier’s Human Rights and Environmental Records
  • New Trends in Food Fraud
  • Diversification of Supply Chain Capacity
  • Product Reformulation Challenges due to Supply Chain Challenges
  • Traceability
  • Preparing the Next Generation of FSQA Leaders
  • Food Defense & Cybersecurity
  • Food Safety and Quality in the Growing World of e-commerce
  • Quality Helping Improve Manufacturing Efficiency with How Does Quality Show Value to the Organization?

The event will also feature special sessions led by our partners, including the Food Defense Consortium, GFSI, STOP Foodborne Illness and Women in Food Safety.

Tabletop exhibits and custom sponsorship packages are available. Contact Sales Director RJ Palermo.

Registration will open soon. To stay up to date on registration, event keynote and agenda announcements, opt in to Food Safety Tech.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech is a digital media community for food industry professionals interested in food safety and quality. We inform, educate and connect food manufacturers and processors, retail & food service, food laboratories, growers, suppliers and vendors, and regulatory agencies with original, in-depth features and reports, curated industry news and user-contributed content, and live and virtual events that offer knowledge, perspectives, strategies and resources to facilitate an environment that fosters safer food for consumers.

About the Food Safety Consortium

Food companies are concerned about protecting their customers, their brands and their own company’s financial bottom line. The term “Food Protection” requires a company-wide culture that incorporates food safety, food integrity and food defense into the company’s Food Protection strategy.

The Food Safety Consortium is an educational and networking event for Food Protection that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the “Consortium” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving food industry.

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Best Practices in Setting Up Food Fraud Programs

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

In 2016, the food authenticity team at Queen’s University Belfast published a study that evaluated adulteration levels in oregano—specifically, 78 samples purchased at retail.1 Almost a quarter of the samples had some adulteration. Some samples actually contained more than 70% other leaf material, primarily olive and myrtle leaves. This study was widely reported and appeared to result in drastic decreases in the levels of adulteration in oregano.

However, just last year, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission published the results of a coordinated control plan for “fraudulent practices” in spices in which they tested 1,885 samples of 6 herbs and spices submitted from from 23 countries.2 Almost half of the 295 oregano samples were “suspicious of being adulterated.” The results of these studies imply that food fraud—especially fraud involving higher-value and further-processed products with a substance that does not make consumers sick—is a persistent risk and demands a sustained response from industry and regulators.

Evaluating historical data from various sources (the scientific literature, regulatory reports, media reports, etc.) is a critical component of a food fraud prevention program, but it is not enough. A strong program will include an in-depth evaluation of what is known historically about food fraud for relevant raw materials, ongoing monitoring of food safety and fraud notifications, a fraud-focused evaluation of supplier controls, audit and testing programs that include specific anti-fraud measures, and an assessment of situational factors that could increase fraud incentive (geographic, economic, etc.).

The Food Fraud Database has tracked public reports of food fraud for almost 10 years. Many incidents are types of fraud that have occurred repeatedly, as the incident distribution from last year illustrates (see Figure 1). In addition to herb/spice fraud, frequent types of fraud include replacement of honey with sugar syrups; unregulated and counterfeit liquor; wines labeled as a more expensive varietal or with undeclared additives; milk products with added protein or fats from other sources; and fraud related to organic certification or geographic origin. Although these types of fraud appear to be “reasonably foreseeable,” the challenge is that during a time of supply chain stressors—such as the COVID-19 pandemic—risks may evolve quickly as suppliers and supply chain structures change. Re-evaluating food fraud vulnerability in response to changing conditions can be time-consuming, but is important to stay ahead of potential risks.

Food Fraud Incidence
Figure 1. Food fraud incidents reported in public sources, 2021. (Source: FoodChain ID Food Fraud Database)

We frequently work with food manufacturers to develop their food fraud vulnerability assessments. Our experience is that searching and compiling risk data and mapping a set of raw materials to the appropriate data sources for analysis can be the most time-consuming aspects of the project. Since Google searches or other manual processes are not always reliable and efficient, a helpful first step can be finding a data source that compiles and standardizes food safety and fraud data from a wide range of reliable sources. The mapping process then involves identifying each individual ingredient component of the raw materials sourced by the company and linking it to the relevant ingredient name in the data source. It is important to invest this time up front to identify the most appropriate data sources and conduct a thorough mapping process. This ensures food safety and quality assurance staff will be notified of information relevant to their particular supply chains moving forward.

Many quality assurance professionals struggle to fit in food fraud assessments and mitigation plans while managing day-to-day food safety and quality programs. A two-stage process, including an ingredient screen followed by a detailed assessment for potentially high-risk ingredients, can make the process more efficient for companies managing hundreds of raw materials (see Figure 2). Existing food safety testing and auditing programs may also have application to food fraud prevention and should also be documented in a food fraud program. Many food companies find value in outside expert guidance to set up a food fraud program so that food safety and fraud risks aren’t unintentionally missed. The goal of a food fraud program is not to add to the workload of food safety and quality assurance staff, but to enable those staff to identify the most targeted measures that will help ensure food safety, authenticity, and brand protection.

Food Fraud Prevention Program
Figure 2. Components of a food fraud prevention program (Source: FoodChain ID).

References

  1. Black, C., et al. (2016). A comprehensive strategy to detect the fraudulent adulteration of herbs: The oregano approach. Food Chemistry, 210, 551–557. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2016.05.004
  2. Maquet, A., et al. (2021). Results of an EU wide coordinated control plan to establish the prevalence of fraudulent practices in the marketing of herbs and spices. EUR 30877 EN. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg. ISBN 978-92-76-42979-1 (online).
Food Lab

Four Testing and Detection Trends for 2022

By Wilfredo Dominguez Nunez, Ph.D.
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Food Lab

COVID-19 continues to pose challenges for every industry, influencing how they will need to adapt to the future. The food manufacturing industry specifically is continuing to see problems with plants shutting down due to outbreaks, labor shortages and domino-effect supply chain issues, forcing them to adjust in order to continue meeting the demands of customers and supplying safe food to the public.

With these adjustments in mind, changes in testing and detection in labs have arisen, influencing four main trends within food manufacturing labs expected throughout 2022.

1. Testing levels continue to increase. In 2021, some customers intentionally planned to cut testing and production in plants to balance out the loss of employees due to the pandemic-induced labor shortages within manufacturing roles.

However, following the trends of rising employment in manufacturing, 2022 should see an increase in testing, raising the baseline of production levels in the plants. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing jobs saw an increase of more than 113,000 employees in Q4 of 2021. Although still below employment levels of February 2020, the continued increase is positive news for the food manufacturing industry.

2. Food testing labs turn to automation technology. Even as labs begin to see their numbers in employees rise, the demand for automation technology during 2022 will continue to climb given its proven ability to increase productivity in the lab and meet the demands of customers. With automation technology, lab technicians can multi-task thanks to the ability to step away from tests, increasing the amount of testing that can be done despite the lack of people in labs.

Additionally, utilizing ready-to-use products has cut down on the time it takes to prepare for testing. Rather than spending hours preparing Petri dishes and using an autoclave, ready-to-use Petri films or Petri dishes create easy to follow protocols with significantly less steps for a lab technician to complete.

3. Third-party labs gain popularity. With food manufacturing, tests will either be conducted on-site or at a third-party lab. Taking labor shortages into account, many manufacturers still do not have the staff numbers to maintain a dedicated on-site testing facility. As a result, manufacturers will turn to third-party labs to help increase testing volumes and productivity.

Not only have third-party labs aided manufacturers with testing, but the labs also often have the capabilities to run confirmation tests on products, tests that may not have been possible if conducted on-site. And as third-party labs have seen numerous consolidations in recent years, their capability to move products around for necessary testing is much more simplified and achievable than if testing was conducted on-site.

4. Shifting to locally sourced products. With supply chain issues continuing into 2022, the food manufacturing industry could source more products from local farmers and other local product suppliers in order to better keep up with demand.

Right now, it is much harder to receive and send products across the globe with countries and states enforcing COVID-19 restrictions and dealing with their own labor issues. Not only are labs looking to rely on locally sourced products to assist in getting products to their final destination, but consumers are also increasing their demand for locally sourced products. Specifically, consumers are looking for the reliability of food on the shelves, shorter time spent between farmer and grocery stores, as well as simply fewer people touching product throughout the chain.

Challenges in food testing labs that arose in the past couple of years are still prevalent in 2022, but from adversity comes innovation and change. With more attention on automation technology, more food manufacturing employees returning to work, and adjustments to ongoing supply chain issues, 2022 is looking more hopeful in working to return to the level of productivity food manufacturers were meeting prior to the pandemic.

FDA

FDA Ready to Start Domestic Surveillance Inspections

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

Last week the FDA announced that it would resume conducting domestic surveillance inspections on February 7—affecting all commodities. The agency will continue with mission-critical domestic and foreign inspections, and leverage remote assessments when necessary. FDA will also conduct previously planned foreign surveillance inspections that have received country clearance and fall within the CDC’s Level 1 or Level 2 COVID travel recommendation.

“Throughout all these activities, the agency remains committed to the health and safety of its investigators and will provide the protection needed to safely inspect facilities and conduct investigations at the ports and in agency laboratories.” – FDA

FDA’s plans to start foreign prioritized inspections in April. It will also continue remote FSVP activities for human and animal foods. However, state inspections under the FDA contract have the authority to determine whether to make inspection decisions as per local information.

Adam Serfas, R.S. Quality
FST Soapbox

Food Safety’s Secret Weapon Against COVID-Related Turnover

By Adam Serfas
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Adam Serfas, R.S. Quality

The food processing and manufacturing industry is one of many in the United States that is continuing to struggle with attracting and retaining workers. The situation is one that processors have found themselves in for years, but amidst an ongoing pandemic, the problem of labor shortage has rapidly reached a critical mass.

To fill understaffed processing lines, companies have employed a wide range of tactics—boosting wages, dishing out bonuses, announcing better work schedules, and bolstering benefits packages. While these recruiting tactics will get bodies on plant floors, they alone aren’t enough to keep things running smoothly. (And, noticeably, there’s been less chatter around measures that aren’t as public facing.) Inevitably, some employees will continue to fall ill with COVID-19 and need to isolate for periods of time, requiring job function shuffling and the need for temporary workers. Likewise, turnover is predicted to remain high industry-wide as companies continue to compete for a slim labor market. With this tumult will come continued product delays, supply chain disruptions, and the very real risk of critical food safety slipping.

For years now, food processors and manufacturers have looked to color-coding as a method for ensuring quality and preventing product contamination and cross-contamination. Conceptually, the process is simple. By assigning different colors to plant zones, assembly process steps, shift teams, or potential allergens and hazards, workers are able to use the correct, conveniently color-coded tools and products in the way they were intended. The plans are customized by facility but are always framed by four basic models mentioned here. When implemented correctly—and inclusively—a color-coding plan can bring so many benefits to a facility, especially in this moment.

Benefit #1: It’s Easily Recognizable

The point of a color-coding plan is to streamline and systemize food safety and hygiene procedures to minimize risks to the safety of products and team members in a facility. With that in mind, most color-coding plans comprise just a handful of colors, and oftentimes, workers in a plant will only ever interact with one or two. Once a team member learns, “I work in this zone, and I will always use blue tools here; or, I work in this part of the assembly process, which will always use red tools”; it’s pretty easy to remember that guidance.

With the availability of high-quality, hygienic tools in full-color options these days, it is pretty effortless to spot a tool that’s out of place. Additionally, many plants will choose to color-code wearables and PPE such as gowns, masks, and gloves so that it’s immediately obvious when a team member isn’t where they should be. Facility signage also comes into play as it’s a best practice for color-coding to always place descriptive plan signage in sight. Some facilities even put color-coding plans on individual ID tags to ensure it is always at the fingertips of team members.

Benefit #2: It’s Easily Understood

The success of a color-coding plan hinges on marrying design simplicity (meaning as few colors as possible with the most logical categorization), with a robust rollout (where every functional item is color-coded). When these needs are met, the plan is easy to understand and follow. It can help multilingual teams as the language barrier is minimized with a focus on colors vs. terminology, and as these plans are growing in popularity, a new employee with experience in the industry has likely worked with a plant operating under some form of a color-coding plan.

Most importantly, now, a color-coding plan can allow for new employees or temporary workers to get up-to-speed quickly. When turnover and hiring are happening more frequently and training team leaders are strapped for time, this is a game-changer as people can be on-boarded quickly without compromising quality and safety.

Benefit #3: It Doesn’t Rely On One Team Member To Train

It’s never a good idea to have important procedural safety standards of a facility live in just one person’s head. It is especially risky at a time when employees are falling ill and needing to isolate themselves on an ongoing basis.

One of the things that makes a color-coding plan successful is that everyone who works in a facility is involved. The plan only succeeds if everyone understands their unique role in the equation, and because of that structure and expectation, everyone is aware of how the plan should be working in practice. This means training new employees doesn’t only involve a small handful of individuals, allowing the responsibility of onboarding to be shared.

Benefit #4: It Can Boost Morale—Really

It’s no secret that many companies are facing dips in team morale these days. Between an ongoing pandemic and persistent turnover, new stressors are added every workday. This can impact not only job satisfaction for employees while at work but also present a safety risk, as food safety culture truly relies on every person in any given facility.

A color-coding plan sets the tone of teamwork and serves as a reminder of the importance of every individual in the larger goal of keeping every other person and the product safe. That reminder of personal responsibility and impact can go a long way when baseline tensions are up, and workflow disruptions are the norm.

If there’s anything the past couple of years has taught the industry, it is to expect the unexpected and, in turn, use whatever devices you have to make the best out of the current situation. A color-coding plan can help you do just that by serving as one of the best tools at your disposal in this moment.

FDA

FDA Offers Help to Companies with Supply Chain Disruptions

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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FDA

FDA has given an update on its resources to provide the industry with continued assistance as it struggles through the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic.

Dallas Henderson, RizePoint
Retail Food Safety Forum

Does Your Ghost Kitchen Have Skeletons in Its Closets?

By Dallas Henderson
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Dallas Henderson, RizePoint

At the beginning of the pandemic, restaurants were hit hard. Fine dining sales dropped by more than 90%, casual dining was down 75%, and fast casual decreased by 65%. Nearly two years later, the restaurant industry is still reeling. Most restaurants experienced huge financial losses, and many couldn’t survive. Our industry continues to deal with supply chain disruptions, rising prices, skyrocketing rent, labor shortages and other major challenges. To make matters worse, new COVID variants and surging cases has consumers on their couches watching Netflix and avoiding dining out.

Back in March 2020, delivery orders surged by 67%, and now 60% of American consumers order takeout or delivery at least once a week. Online ordering is growing 300% faster than in-house dining. And operators are discovering a colossal opportunity: Ghost kitchens.

Ghost kitchens allow operators to utilize commercial kitchens without the overhead (and expense) of a full restaurant space and staff. They focus solely on prepping and cooking “to go” orders, and don’t have the option of onsite dining.

While the business model may have shifted, ghost kitchens still need to prioritize food safety and quality, just as traditional restaurant kitchens do. As such, they should:

  • Embrace digital tools. Tech tools make food safety and quality assurance much easier to manage. Use digital tools to elevate food safety checklists and audits, track ingredient lists, manage allergen information, spot trends, etc. These solutions can help staff manage food safety processes, quickly, easily, efficiently and accurately.
  • Use sensors. Install digital sensors to check equipment. For instance, these tools can alert the team if a refrigerator or freezer door is accidentally left open, or if temperatures drop below a certain level. Digital thermometers are also essential to check food temps and to ensure foods are cooked properly.
  • Use tech tools for ongoing training. All workers must be trained in food safety, not just upon hiring, but throughout their tenure. Use tech tools to provide regular training and safety reminders. Send small “chunks” of information right to employees’ phones and provide online resources so they have valuable information right at their fingertips. Communicate regularly with employees, sending updates on COVID protocols and other important safety information.
  • Be transparent. Food safety practices used to happen “behind the scenes.” Restaurant guests just assumed that employees were taking proper safety precautions. Today, though, everyone’s demanding safer practices, and they want to see staff wearing masks, more frequent sanitation of high touch surfaces, proper social distancing, etc. Since ghost kitchens are a virtual business, you’ll have to proactively spotlight the safety and quality protocols you follow to reassure customers (and prospects) that you take safety very seriously.
  • Use social media to spotlight your safe practices. Traditional restaurants display health inspection letter grades and reports in their dining areas or storefront windows. Since ghost kitchens don’t have storefronts or dining areas, you’ll need to find new ways to spotlight your commitment to safety. Post information on your website and social media platforms about your meticulous attention to safety and quality to make customers feel safe ordering from you.
  • Audit differently. Pre-COVID, restaurants and other commercial kitchens had third-party auditors come onsite occasionally to inspect their facilities. Now, food businesses—including ghost kitchens—must audit differently, especially when travel restrictions and other COVID-related disruptions make in-person auditing unfeasible. Use a combination of regular self-assessments, remote auditing, and onsite inspections (when possible) to ensure safety protocols are being followed, the facilities are spotless, equipment is working properly, etc. Previously, in-person audits were often viewed as punitive, with the Big, Bad Auditor coming onsite to point out a company’s mistakes. Now, teams are more engaged and invested in the process, making these inspections more collaborative and cooperative. Also, operators are conducting more frequent remote audits and self-inspections, rather than annual or bi-annual onsite audits, which is a great way to identify (and fix) infractions before they become liabilities.
  • Prioritize food safety. Even though your business model may have changed from a traditional restaurant to a ghost kitchen, your focus on food safety must remain top-of-mind. Follow food safety protocols: Cook to proper temps, store foods properly, don’t cross-contaminate, accommodate food allergies, etc. In addition, be sure everyone on your team follows COVID protocols: Frequent sanitation of high-touch areas, frequent hand washing, social distancing, masking and not working when ill.
  • Only work with vendors that prioritize food safety. Be aware of your vendors’ food safety policies. Only work with suppliers that adhere to the strictest safety and quality standards, and make sure that they’re properly certified. New software solutions allow you to easily manage and track supplier certifications.
  • Accommodate food-allergic guests. Train your staff about food allergies. Have a knowledgeable manager carefully oversee meal prep (and answer questions) for food-allergic customers. Designate an allergy-friendly prep area where foods can be prepared without contamination risk. Use clean and sanitized utensils to prepare allergy-friendly foods. Mark food-allergic guests’ meals with a frill pick or special colored container. Put allergy-friendly meals in separate containers for delivery so there’s no risk of cross-contamination.
  • Deliver foods safely. Delivery-only concepts must ensure that foods are kept safe from their kitchen to their customers’ homes. Your drivers should have equipment to keep foods at proper temperatures—hot foods hot, cold foods cold—during delivery. Drivers should also sanitize their hands frequently, including after they touch doorknobs, doorbells, money, pens, etc.

Ghost kitchens are an exciting new chapter for our industry. It has been wonderful to see savvy operators pivot to this new business model to accommodate increased consumer demand for “to go” meal options. While ghost kitchens operate without the overhead and infrastructure of traditional restaurants, they still must prioritize food safety every day, for every shift and every meal.