Digital Assist: Mobilize Your Food Safety Culture With These Five High-Impact, High-ROI Activities

In 2018, researchers at Johns Hopkins simulated food-related outbreaks involving norovirus, E. coli and salmonella to calculate the financial impact they would have on various categories of restaurants. The study revealed that a single foodborne illness outbreak at a fast-food restaurant could cost up to $1.9 million, depending on the severity of the outbreak and other factors. For fast-casual formats, meanwhile, the potential financial damage from such an outbreak could reach $2.1 million.

But that’s small change compared to the seismic impact a foodborne illness can have on a company and its brand. Such an outbreak could ultimately “equal losses 10 percent to 5,790 percent of their annual marketing spend, and between 0.3 percent and 101 percent of annual revenue,” the Hopkins study estimates. When all is said and done, the cost of a single foodborne illness outbreak can consume a large portion of annual profits, easily surpassing the cost of any infection prevention and control measures a restaurant might put in place.

Creating a culture of food safety is imperative for the dramatic impact even one safety-related event can have on a restaurant’s bottom line — and on the dining public.

As these figures illustrate, creating a culture of food safety is imperative for the dramatic impact even one safety-related event can have on a restaurant’s bottom line — and on the dining public. The specter of foodborne outbreaks harming loyal customers and toppling businesses virtually overnight provided the impetus for a regulatory paradigm shift, with the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) serving as the vehicle through which to build a culture of prevention for foodborne illness and outbreaks.

Fostering a culture of food safety in a high-turnover industry where minimum wages and food costs are escalating, training resources are diminishing, and restaurants’ overall cost to serve is rising, presents significant but not insurmountable operational challenges. National chains and franchises are finding that powerful mobile-enabled tools can help to standardize, reward and sustain a food safety culture and drive consistency across operations — with little to no training. Based on my company’s experience working with some of the country’s foremost restaurant and enterprise food producers as they reinvent  their food safety cultures using a mobile-first approach, these five strategic priorities are proving to be true catalysts to transforming food safety culture across an enterprise:

Digitize Daily Food Safety Audits

Arming teams with standardized and automated food safety audits in a digital format on their mobile devices turns mobile checklists into tools to drive compliance with intentional sequence with the FSMA. Companies build surveys to audit federal, local, and brand-specific food safety practices across national restaurant networks to ensure that key standards are being met. Good surveys are intuitive and contain on-the-spot training resources so even a new hire on his or her first day can complete the audit effectively. Top-performing businesses deliver automated alerts, surveys, audits and daily operational checklists at specific times each day through mobile apps to make the entire food safety process simple and intuitive to maintain. Easy dashboard-based reporting that accompanies the app can automate, communicate and reinforce food safety standards across all locations and give leadership teams full visibility to the field. Preserving audits in a digitalized, enterprise tool helps maintain high levels of consistency and quality, in addition to driving exponential time savings in reporting and compliance.

 Recall Product in Real-Time

While today’s federal food safety regulations are designed to prevent outbreaks, restaurants still need the ability to mobilize quickly and decisively during a food safety crisis. When the romaine lettuce recall hit in late 2018, our partners used connected digital supply chain tools to gain real-time visibility into individual restaurants impacted across their regions. The insights they gained from the data allowed them to coordinate a quick, coherent and unified response to the crisis across hundreds of locations, which, in moments like these, is critical to protecting public health and even saving lives. As part of that coordinated response, the digital platform ensured that the right personnel at each restaurant received prompt instructions on how to handle recalled product. Teams used the live image-capture function within the app to document the destruction of compromised product, fulfilling all compliance steps in a matter of minutes. Throughout the crisis, management teams had the real-time insights and communications tools they needed to protect their customers and business.

Drive Employee Engagement

Attracting and retaining quality employees is a struggle, especially in the restaurant business. Gamification — where employees become “players” in an internal game or contest designed to incentivize certain behaviors — provides a fun and compelling way to engage employees, reward a culture of prevention, and drive employee retention. Food safety standards can be gamified across a restaurant enterprise, with individual employees and stores accruing points, earning rewards, and receiving recognition for meeting standards and following important protocols consistently. These practices not only energize workforces, they help to ensure consistent food safety despite turnover. By providing access to apps that are easy, intuitive, and actually fun to use, our partners are seeing higher rates of adoption within transient workforces, and enabling food safety practices to be upheld no matter who’s on the team.

Enhance Insights and Innovation

When company-wide data feeds into a digital platform equipped with robust analytics tools, operational decision-makers have the ability to analyze information collected from multiple angles to gauge the effectiveness of specific safety and compliance measures and locate areas in the business that need improvement or increased training. Business intelligence tools allow restaurants to correlate data sets to pinpoint why certain stores are high-performing in safety while others are lagging. Beyond inspecting for food safety compliance, this reporting also helps leadership to better understand the customer experience each location is delivering, which has long-term impact on top line revenue growth and brand equity. Drilling into data in dashboard formats that require no coding or analyst support allows upper-level decision-makers to gain actionable insights into food safety, compliance and customer experience trends across their restaurant networks with just a few clicks and in real-time. This data can also be extracted through APIs and paired up with other internal data sets to give a complete snapshot of operational health. These same reporting tools can also be used by company leaders to evaluate new product launches and QA standards across the board.

Use Digital Tools

Implement an enterprise-wide digital platform to build the backbone of an intelligent restaurant organization and bring audit cues, safety checklists and scorecards, rapid crisis response, gamification, and tools for reporting and analytics together seamlessly. Doing so ensures that the right data consistently flows to the right places within the business so it can be leveraged to grow revenue and protect public health.

As vital a consideration as food safety is, it is but one area of a restaurant operation. Armed with a powerful, versatile enterprise-wide digital platform, powered by mobile technology, restaurants have the means to transform virtually every aspect of their business, from the supply chain right down to the customer dining experience, when it counts the most.