Where does your food come from? This is a question that young children are often asked by teachers or educational programs. A common response is: the grocery store. What follows is a class or show on farming and the food processing industry. The purpose of the lesson is to educate children about everybody who is involved in bringing food to their plates. We, as adults, sometimes forget these simple lessons of childhood and forget where our food comes from or how to safely handle it.
In recent years, the entire food industry has come under heavy fire as individuals along the supply chain, whether they are farmers or food processors, have forgotten about or neglected food safety. As a result of safety oversights, thousands of people can be affected by food poisoning at a time. From the restaurant owner's perspective, this whole scenario can be terrifying because food poisoning can destroy their business. The best thing any restaurant owner can do is remember the basics and know where your food comes from.
When trying to trace the actual path from farm to table, the food supply chain can become very complicated very fast. Here are a couple of simple examples pathways food might take to go from the farmer to the restaurant to the customer:
- Farmer > Restaurant > Customer
- Farmer > Food Processor > Restaurant > Customer
- Farmer > Food Processor > Food Distributor/Warehouse > Restaurant > Customer
Of course, these examples don't take into account multiple food processors or multiple distributors. A lot of chain restaurants use proprietary ingredients and require franchisees to buy from a central warehouse, so that's another link in the food supply chain. Any time another link is added in the supply chain, the potential of food contamination goes up, because that's just another set of hands (or several hands) handling the food before it gets to the consumer.
The restaurant is ultimately responsible for serving safe food to the customers. One case of food poisoning is enough to permanently tarnish a restaurant's reputation, regardless of where or when the contamination occurred. There are a couple of ways restaurant managers can protect their customers and reputation where supply chain management is concerned.
- Check the supplier's background. All food distributors and suppliers are regulated by either the FDA or United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and they are supposed to be inspected regularly. You can go through the supplier's local health department to obtain inspection results to make sure they are in compliance. You can also check to see if your suppliers are HACCP certified which means they employ strict record keeping and food safety management practices.
- Inspect all food shipments. The best way to prevent contaminated food from entering your restaurant is to inspect all food shipments and reject any food that does not meet your standards. >> Learn More about Accepting or Rejecting Shipments of Meat, Poultry and Seafood
- Keep up-to-date on food recalls. Both the USDA and FDA send out regular updates on product recalls. It behooves restaurant managers to sign up to receive recall alerts from both the FDA site and Food Safety Inspection Services site (the food safety branch of the USDA). This way, you will be able to catch any contaminated food before it hits your customer's plate.
- Consider buying local. As mentioned before, the more hands food has to go through before it reaches the table, the higher the risk of contamination, so one of the best ways to assure food safety in the supply chain is to cut out the middle man and go directly to the producer. If the only links in the chain are farmer and restaurant, the probability of food poisoning is greatly reduced. If there is an outbreak, it should be relatively easy to trace the source.
The two major food safety certification programs recognized in the United States are the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP). These are both food management certifications that all food producers, processors and handlers can undergo to assure maximum food safety. The standards require food producers and processors to label their food with lot numbers in order to assist traceability should an outbreak occur.
In January of 2011, President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act, which is a massive overhaul of current food safety regulations in the United States. Among the provisions in the act, farmers and food processors are required to keep better records of where their food is sold to help government officials in the event of a food poisoning outbreak. The act also tasks the FDA with improving the traceability of produce. The FDA also has recall authority, now, so questionable fruits and vegetables can be more quickly removed from shelves which will hopefully limit the cases of food poisoning.