World Food Safety Day Roundtable

There are approximately 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually – the equivalent of sickening one in six Americans each year, according to federal government estimates. Each year, these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization designated “Food Safety: Prepare for the Unexpected” as the theme for World Food Safety Day (June 7)  2024. The purpose is to draw attention to sudden food safety incidents and underline the importance of being prepared for such incidents, no matter how severe they may be.

The Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually – the equivalent of sickening oe in six Americans each year. And each year, these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

For additional World Food Safety Day resources, visit WHOUN or the FDA

To discuss food safety, Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine reached out to a number of restaurant industry executives. 

Peter Cryan (PC) is a seasoned executive in the restaurant and hospitality industry. He has over 30 years of experience in the field, starting as a dishwasher and rising to a leadership position at Inspire Brands, where he served as Vice President of Global Equipment Innovation & Supply. He has been recognized for his innovative work and received multiple awards for innovation from both Inspire leadership and the industry. He has expertise in optimizing kitchen operations, reducing labor costs, improving food safety, and increasing efficiency through the use of technology and equipment.

He recently started his own consulting practice, assisting food service chains and equipment and supply manufacturers with technology opportunities, equipment evaluation, and energy management platforms. He is also on the advisory board of CFESA, the largest education, training and resource organization supporting commercial food equipment service technicians. 

John Strom (JS) is vice president and general manager of Innovation at GP PRO, a division of Georgia-Pacific. In this position, he leads the team responsible for all aspects of the company’s KOLO™ Smart Monitoring System, an award-winning open platform smart restroom solution. 

Tom Woodbury (TW) is an IoT Solutions Consultant at MachineQ, an enterprise IoT company within Comcast. He also serves as a committee member with the Conference for Food Protection and is responsible for helping to author recommended technology-related food code.

He brings his extensive background in foodservice and IoT to this role. He advises enterprise leaders on how to maximize their ROI by understanding their use case and providing a secure, efficient, and cost-effective IoT solution that yields a maximum return on investment. Prior to MachineQ, Woodbury led the enterprise sales organization for ComplianceMate, an IoT company focused on operational efficiencies and food safety compliance in the foodservices industry globally. 

What are the key challenges of implementing food safety practices? What are some hidden food safety dangers?

PC: At the restaurant level, changing behaviors is one of the most challenging aspects of implementing food safety practices. This can be overcome with technology, training and education. However, that in itself is a challenge. Restaurant corporation leadership must be willing to invest in food safety programs and practices on an ongoing basis. Often, unless there was some kind of big outbreak, public or even regulatory pressure, funding is hard to get for newer programs or technology, which again can help drive new safety behaviors in restaurant operations.  

JS: The CDC, the FDA, and state and local health departments all have regulations and guidelines designed to ensure safe food handling in restaurants, cafeterias, and other venues that serve food. But without proper employee training and, honestly, proper employee hygiene practices, the benefits of these rules are lost. At the end of the day, employee behavior has the greatest impact on food safety. 

TW: One example of a hidden danger is relying on manual temperature checks to ensure that refrigerated goods are stored at safe temperatures. If a power outage occurs, you may not be aware of the incident until staff arrive the next morning. And, depending on when the power was restored, your next temperature reading may not reveal that there were temperature deviations, which affects whether the food is safe to serve. Other hidden dangers can come from improperly preparing and holding the food prior to distribution. Finally, hand hygiene and sanitary practices are other operational areas may not be “hidden dangers,” but must always be top of mind to ensure food safety.

What are your best tips for promoting food safety practices throughout the food chain?

JS: The key ingredient to food safety is hygiene—covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, covering open cuts, properly and frequently washing and drying your hands. Personal accountability among all employees working in foodservice regardless of their role cannot be over emphasized. 

TW: Vigilance and visibility. Restaurant operators must do their due diligence and implement workflows for optimal visibility and traceability into food conditions along the supply chain and within their restaurant operations. Relying on Internet of Things (IoT) technology can help operators gain real-time insights into different aspects of food production, storage, and distribution, promoting food safety practices. 

When you visit a restaurant, what do you hope to see in regard to food safety practices?

PC: I hope to see frequent glove changing and washing hands. If crew and operators are washing hands frequently, they are likely following other good practices. If they are not, then they are likely breaking all kinds of safety regulations and procedures. Have you ever seen someone sweeping the floor wearing gloves? And then they go make your food without changing gloves and washing hands. Gross! Wash your hands, and then other procedures will fall into place. 

JS: A restaurant’s restroom is a window into its kitchen. If the restroom is dirty, smelly, or out of supplies, that’s an indication that hygiene isn’t a priority in the kitchen. So, look for touchless paper towel, toilet tissue, and soap dispensers in the restroom. They reduce touchpoints and therefore the risk of cross contamination for employees and patrons. You also want to ensure the dispensers are stocked and in working order, that surfaces are clean and dry, and maybe look for signage that says when the restroom was last serviced. 

What roles do data and technology play in creating a food safety culture?

PC: Technology and data can help foster a food safety culture, through the supply chain and at the restaurant level, by enhanced traceability using RFID, IoT and GPS. RFID and IoT, specifically at the restaurant level, can improve cooking to food-safe temperatures, the holding and storing of food in the restaurant, and alerts and data to show when this isn’t being followed at the restaurant level (or a group of restaurants if you are a chain). At Inspire when I was leading the operations innovation team there, I could see what corporate restaurants were completing their food safety checklist and temperature tracking through IoT reporting. It alerted me by percentage completed in each district. We used this data for performance recognition and for accountability to food safety practices. 

TW: IoT has revolutionized the way restaurants run their business. The vast amount of data available presents a tremendous opportunity for operators to future-proof their operations. Consider, for example, using IoT to automate temperature readings from refrigerators and freezers. This automates a mundane task for employees and frees up their time to better serve customers. Plus, it provides accurate and real-time monitoring data for compliance purposes. Additionally, it ensures that food is produced and held safely before consumption.

How are IoT and AI impacting food safety practices and what impact do you anticipate in the future?

PC: IoT is collecting data in so many areas now. For example, in food cooking, HACCP programs, temperature holding of both cold and hot products, etc. But IoT can also tell us when equipment isn’t performing well, and through AI we are predicting when parts/equipment will fail based on historical data. This is critical for food safety as we can repair equipment before it fails and spoils food that might be served to a customer. This not only saves thousands of dollars per year per restaurant, for chains it can mean millions of dollars in savings. But most important – it improves food safety for millions of customers.  

JS: The greatest benefit of IoT and AI to date is the amount of data they generate, and we are just skimming the surface in terms of what data to collect, how to analyze it, and, more importantly, how to leverage it. Wouldn’t it be something to have systems in place to know how hygienic a kitchen surface is, or the cutlery, or serviceware, and to be able to stop cross contamination in its tracks? We need to use new technologies to resolve hygiene and food safety problems that have plagued the foodservice industry since its inception, and I do believe we’ll get there. 

TW: IoT sensors generate vast amounts of data from various connected devices and systems in kitchens – from refrigerator temperatures and cook times to inventory levels and restroom use – delivering real-time insights for informed decision-making. AI adds a layer of intelligence by analyzing IoT data within the context of other data sets and systems for deeper insights that drive action-oriented decisions and deliver value to varying stakeholders in foodservice operations. As a result, we don’t see this momentum slowing down; it is rapidly advancing as we move forward. 

How should a brand handle a food safety crisis?

PC: Hopefully they have a well-trained, prepared risk management team that is very proactive. If they are proactive then they are educating and training the restaurant teams on what to do in a crisis and what steps need to be carefully followed to minimize exposure to customers and bad press. They should have a crisis management plan (or CMP) for different crisis situations. This would include what to do when customers complain, recalls of product, health outbreak response (in public and at the restaurant), natural disasters and pandemics, chain of command for communication, boiling water procedures, and traceability from farm to factory through the entire supply chain to the restaurant. Every chain should have – in each restaurant – a quick guidebook or poster with “what to do if…” And these should be reviewed quarterly at a minimum.  

Why do you feel it’s important to mark World Food Safety Day?

PC: It’s important because we all eat food, we are all affected by poor and good food safety practices, and we all share in the responsibility of protecting the public and our food supply whether eating at home or in a restaurant. We all win when food is served safely. In marking World Food Safety Day, we call attention to the importance of protecting our industry and help foster a culture of good food safety practices that help drive economic growth, innovation and security.