What a case of foodborne illness could cost your business

We’ve all read the headline about a restaurant around the corner closing because of numerous cases of norovirus or a worldwide fast food chain’s stock plummeting due to an E. coli outbreak in a local franchise. Studies show that such an outbreak can cost a fast-casual establishment more than $2 million. While we may expect this cost to hurt only those whose money is at the top, the implicit costs of any foodborne illness outbreak affect the entire ladder of food production. From unlucky patrons eating contaminated food to executives whose jobs are at stake, everyone has something to lose.

The fortunate part is that while everyone is at risk, we can also all take direct action to stop foodborne contaminants from ever reaching our plate. Implementing techniques like those suggested below represents an important step toward clean eating, but truly eliminating this threat requires a change of culture. This shift in priorities toward stronger food safety and healthy habits will not happen unless we all work together. 

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While employees who actually serve the food have a critical role in food safety, a lack of hygiene at work is by no means the only culprit responsible for an outbreak. The entire corporate chain of command is flush with opportunities to support a culture of food safety. With their own jobs and checkbooks on the line, executives and chief food safety officers may even have the most to lose by a failure in the system. A company that lacks top down food safety training requirements loses a chance to spread healthy practices broadly across its employees. An executive’s decision not to support such an initiative can harm their culture at far deeper levels than they might think. Executives not only pass up an opportunity for learning and growth, but also demonstrate that serving the safest food possible is not a personal priority for company leaders. In any corporation with strong employee culture, a message on combating foodborne illness from a CEO can have just as powerful of an impact on each member of the team as the lack of such a message can hurt.

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Regardless of corporate policies, distributors that provide raw materials to restaurants can also put food safety at risk. Some outbreaks, like this recent case of E. coli in flour, are traced back to the distributor themselves.  A healthy food safety culture may culminate within the kitchen doors, but it must also be present outside of the restaurant itself. From producers and transportation services to food handlers in our grocery stores, the network of players who have a role in this process is extensive. We must acknowledge this magnitude and be quick to share food safety accomplishments and best practices up and down the food system.

Once effective corporate policies are in place and clean food has been delivered with care, it comes down to each individual location to put a safe meal on the table (or through the drive-thru window). Store and shift managers also share in the responsibility to enforce hand-washing routines and create healthy work environments. They serve as a final point of oversight to the employees who actually prepare food. Even though managers might not put the meal together themselves, promoting their own culture of food-safety on a location scale is essential to the effectiveness of the entire operation.

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Inevitably, the fate of managers, executives, food providers, and entire companies falls into the hands of individual employees preparing food. Even if healthy steps have been taken along the way–corporate policies in place, best practices observed through food transit, and diligent managerial oversight–a single employee who contaminates a meal with harmful bacteria can bring the house crumbling down. Ideally, the culture of food-safety that has been constructed through all of the previous steps encourages employees to be mindful of their personal health. Still, mistakes happen, and a simple failure to wash hands correctly can lead to that hefty $2 million red line.

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In this final, most crucial step of the food production process, Pathspot works to provide a safety net to everyone who has so much to lose, including store customers. In a kitchen where hand scanning is as natural as using soap while washing, we are able to catch contamination threats and provide instant feedback on handwashing to make sure that that one employee in a hundred washes their hands again. 

The network of food production is massive, and far more is at stake due to an outbreak than a company checkbook. PathSpot can help manage that risk. We represent the last piece to tie a culture of food safety together, for CEOs to line workers and everyone in between. Learn how our hand scanners can strengthen your food safety culture by clicking here.


Dutch Waanders