Sponsored by Frosty Acres.
Chef Thomas has ordered fresh chicken, fresh ground beef, and raw vegetables for a party at his sports bar in two days. His distributor will deliver it tomorrow. He will serve BBQ chicken, hamburgers and a veggie plate to 50 people who have made reservations to watch the football game. He’s covered all his bases. What could possibly go wrong?
Actually? A lot. Fresh products are subject to a number of toxins or bacterial issues if not handled properly throughout the food distribution chain. Recent food safety issues have proven how devastating that can be to an operation. Fortunately, Chef Thomas has a reliable distributor partner that he deals with on a regular basis who follows best practices for delivering fresh, unadulterated products.
Food safety is not a “sexy” topic like menu trends or customer-facing technology, but it is one of the most critical processes for the continuing success of a restaurant. Distributors follow best practices behind the scenes ensuring that the food they deliver is temperature and quality controlled to preserve integrity and safety.
New FDA Rules
The FDA, after many months of deliberation, has finally published rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Designed to prevent food safety issues from occurring, the rules have gone into effect starting in September of 2016 in phases. Large companies, with more than 500 employees, will have one year to comply; smaller companies, two years.
All responsible distributors should be already following standard operating procedures (SOPs) for food safety. The new rules mainly apply to the monitoring and record keeping of those procedures.
Mark Harman is President of Stanz Foodservice in South Bend, Indiana. He explains that Stanz has been following food safety best practices for years. The only thing that is different now is the requirement for documentation of each step.
SOPs are required for receiving, storage and delivery. When product is received from a supplier, it is inspected for temperature and condition when it arrives at the dock.
In the warehouse, there can be up to seven different temperature zones for products, Harman says. Especially critical are fresh meat or seafood and fresh poultry. The new demand for fresh product has upped the ante for procedures. For instance, Harman has seen an increase in the use of fresh hamburger meat, which has a short shelf life.
Before delivery, trucks are washed and precooled When orders are assembled for delivery, they are placed in two to three appropriate temperature zones in the tractor trailer.
If a chilled product is delivered to an operator, it can’t be sent back. “We don’t allow returns of refrigerated and frozen products, mainly to protect the integrity of the product for the next customer,” Harman says. Items can come back if they have not been taken off of the truck.
SOP help from outside
Harman and other distributors rely on associations to help with understanding of the new FSMA rules. Stanz is a member of F.A.B. (Frosty Acres Brands), the sales, marketing and procurement cooperative for independent distributors based in Alpharetta, Georgia. He works with Phillip Lamb, Director of Logistics at F.A.B., who is charged with helping members understand and comply with all the new rules.
Lamb spends his time communicating with members, helping them understand the correct processes and helping to create appropriate SOPs. “I’ve spent the last four and a half years watching and reading as this law came to full fruition. I share information and, when they need me, get on phone calls with them, walk through and, in some cases, work with members and set up SOPs. They are meant to cover product that would be harmed if the correct temperature is not maintained.” He emphasizes that the rules are not introducing any new practices; the necessary ones are already in place.
“I personally think the industry has been doing a great job of regulating itself,” Lamb says “Do I think people are going to have to change things? Not so much. They will have to do a little more writing, have some plans in place, and make sure they are documenting everything correctly.”
One of the things that Lamb and Harman worry about on a weekly basis is a truck or a van that is not refrigerated delivering product into facilities. “The refrigeration on the truck is nonexistent,” Harman says. “I see that a lot. The operator buys something in Chicago and he drives it back. There is a lot of risk in all of that.”
Chef Thomas can rest assured that the products he has purchased have been vetted for food safety - as well as quality – behind the scenes by his distribution partner. Now, it’s up to him. “Once we put the product in the customer’s hands, it’s the customer’s job to know how to keep it safe,” Harman explains. “We’ve done our job.”