As we’ve said before, food safety is no easy task: it requires diligence, patience, and above all else, commitment to ensuring customer safety and product quality. All food service businesses have the same obligation to safety, whether or not they are a family run restaurant, a quick service chain with stores worldwide, or a public venue that serves thousands of guests in a few short hours.
Recently, ESPN reported on the state of the industry in public venues as it relates to food safety, and the results are dismal. Among the many violations located in stadiums includes mouse droppings in cooking areas, employees spitting into food, and improper temperature storage for both hot and cold foods.
Public venues, like baseball fields or soccer stadiums, are in a difficult position to ensure food safety. Unlike restaurants, stadiums have an extraordinarily high amount of unique employees who handle a diverse set of food options for huge groups of people. The sheer number of people expecting a quick bite is concerning, coupled with the staffing requirements to meet demands and you run into foodborne illness disasters – which should come to no surprise, seeing that foodborne incidents are all too common in locations who have the benefit of simpler food safety strategies.
Venues often employ temporary workers in order to accommodate a large number of customers, which further complicates the issue. Proper training is key to preventing the spread of disease. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently identified employee handwashing as one of the two food safety behaviors needing the most improvement. This simple task, along with other more complicated tasks, is overlooked and disregarded. Foodservice organizations of any size or experience will have more difficulty with training larger groups of people, plain and simple.
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In its report, ESPN interviewed Laurence Leavy, AKA Marlins Man, who brought friends and coworkers to a Yankee’s game back in 2017. After the game, two of his guests became sick. Laurence went to Twitter and shared his experience to find out if any patrons had fallen ill in a similar fashion. Here’s what he had to say about his friends:
“They were doubled over, they were vomiting, had cramps, headaches, felt like their appendix needed to be taken out… [the one who ended up at the hospital] thought she was going to die, she was that sick. She missed three days of work. She did not eat for three days."
– Laurence Leavy, AKA Marlins Man
His post did, in fact, garner the attention of others who had fallen ill, highlighting the power of social media to influence consumer behavior. His followers and baseball fans who plan to see the Yankees are now aware of a previous food safety incident, which is more than likely to influence their decision to eat at the ballpark.
Social media has a significant influence on restaurant performance. Michael Luca, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard University, conducted research on how Yelp reviews impact a restaurant's bottom line. He found that each additional full star rating translated to a 5% to 9% effect on revenues. Regardless of the size of the restaurant or foodservice operation, social media has the power of significantly influencing a consumer’s choice for which restaurant, or in this case, which stadium food vendor they visit.
From restaurant reviews to sharing a daunting experience with food at a particular venue, social media has brought to light both good and bad experiences with dining.
So what is to be done? It seems like this is an extraordinarily challenging problem due to the number of guests expecting a good dining experience and their ability to share that experience, the difficulty with training a workforce with high-turnover, and the inherent openness of stadiums and public venues that make it easy for pests to make their way into kitchens. Despite the seemingly impossible task of managing food safety at this scale, there are two simple categories that foodservice organizations should invest in: people and technology. Hand-washing and proper temperature control are cited among the FDA’s top five most common food safety citations, both of which can be solved through improved training and digital food safety.
Arguably the most important piece of effective food safety is that all employees are well-trained and know how to promote safe behaviors. If the people who serve and prepare food do not understand how to ensure safe food handling practices, food safety will break down. Additionally, digital checklists provide employers with easier management of daily line checks, act as an operational execution platform, and improve visibility into their food safety plan. Digital solutions provide unprecedented insight into where food safety fails, and how to improve food safety before an incident strikes.
Remote monitoring made possible by the IoT revolution has enabled proactive food safety. Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) have allowed foodservice organizations to ease compliance management, but more importantly, be notified of a temperature excursion before perishable foods have the chance to develop bacteria that lead to foodborne illness. Management can be notified immediately of an excursion, which allows them to remedy the situation before it has caused damage.
Public venues face difficult challenges with managing food safety, but they can improve their situation through investments made in people and technology. Combining an FSMS with digital checklists enables proactive management of food safety, and proper handling if an excursion is detected.
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