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Risk in Context

Three Steps to Prevent Food-Borne Illness

Posted by Cindy Smail July 21, 2015

Food-borne illness fell in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data published earlier this year. That’s good news for restaurants, food and beverage processors, and retailers. But given the consequences of a food contamination issue, complacency is not an option: Just one incident could have a severe impact on your reputation and bottom line. And a high-profile event could even put you out of business.

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to prevent illnesses and contamination incidents and their aftereffects. Here are three:

1. Map Your Supply Chain.

Restaurants and food and beverage retailers and processors need to understand how raw ingredients and processed food flows through their supply chains, where and how food products can become contaminated, and how suppliers are preventing contamination. The most resilient organizations can answer “yes” to each of the following questions:

  • Are we constantly monitoring our most critical supply chain dependencies and single points of failure?
  • Are the people, infrastructure, and suppliers that we depend on managing risk to our expectations?
  • Have we created a collective culture along our supply chains that is risk-conscious, intelligent, and motivated?

2. Educate and Train Employees.

Your own people should understand the keys to ensuring food safety and preventing allergic reactions. Regular training and communication are essential — especially given the high turnover in the food processing, retail, and restaurant industries. All employees must understand not only the best practices they should follow, but also the reasons for doing so.

Consider creating a checklist that identifies the processes employees should follow, and conduct regular audits to ensure compliance. The checklist should provide guidance on several topics, including:

  • Personal hygiene.
  • Food preparation and storage.
  • Cleaning, sanitizing, and using equipment.
  • Garbage storage and disposal.
  • Pest control.

3. Plan Ahead.

The most successful organizations have well-tested response plans in place before something happens. Among other areas, your plan should cover:

  • Traceability and product mapping to identify the root source of a contamination incident.
  • Product recall administration, including key infrastructure needed to execute a recall.
  • Crisis communications, including appropriate social media responses.
  • Customer relations, via both web and phone.

You should also prepare documents outlining your expectations of suppliers during a crisis. For example, retailers and restaurants should expect suppliers to help them gather samples and evaluate potentially contaminated products.

Food and beverage risk managers should consider purchasing product recall insurance, which can provide coverage for many expenses incurred following cases of food poisoning.

Unfortunately, many organizations don’t think about food safety until after a costly incident. But you can protect your company and customers by proactively managing this critical risk.

Cindy Smail