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Google FINDER and the Power of Data to make Restaurants Safer

Are you aware of Google’s FINDER algorithm? My guess is not yet but you will hear more about it in the future.  Check out this article from The Daily Mail UK .

Google has created a machine learning algorithm named FINDER, Foodborne Illness Detector in Real Time, that is capable of pairing search terms like “diarrhea” and “stomach cramps” with a person’s geolocation history to determine which restaurants they have visited recently and proactively detect which restaurants might be operating unsafely in real-time.

Here are some of the interesting facts from the Daily Mail Article:

  • Google ran a test across Chicago and Las Vegas in 2016 & 17.
  • FINDER detected that the percentage of unsafe restaurants across those cities were 52.3% vs. the health department inspection data which said that 22.7% were unsafe.
  • FINDER was more accurate than customer complaints. which are only accurate about 38% of the time. “Researchers believe this is because most people assume the cause of their food poisoning was the last place they ate at, causing them to file a complaint at the wrong restaurant. They point to medical studies that have shown foodborne illnesses can take 48 hours or even longer to become symptomatic after someone has been exposed. “
  • “[We] demonstrated that FINDER improves the accuracy of health inspections; restaurants identified by FINDER are 3.1 times as likely to be deemed unsafe during the inspection as restaurants identified by existing methods,’ according to the study.”

First off, I’m so impressed by the FINDER project, because they used readily available disparate data and combined it together to identify causality and to notify the proper authorities to investigate.

Here are my conclusions from the article:

  1. The idea that a health inspection or an internal audit conducted periodically is enough to identify unsafe restaurants is an antiquated and inaccurate way of managing food safety.
  2. This further confirms the FDA’s recent study, read our blog to learn more, that the best way to reduce the risk of foodborne illness is an FSMS (Food Safety Management System) that fosters daily active managerial control.
  3. In the future, we will see an increase in systems that are constantly monitoring and reporting on exceptions.  We do that today in our platform and we are continuing to look for ways to expand that exception reporting. To learn more about the OpsAnalitica Platform, click here.
  4. Restaurant operators that have been highly critical of reviews where a person said they got sick at their restaurant, there is some validity in that criticism.
  5. Iwaspoisoned.com, which we have lauded as a really cool platform for identifying foodborne illness outbreaks may have a very short lifespan because the accuracy of complaints is only 38% and this platform is more accurate.

The restaurant industry, like all industries, has a responsibility to operate at the highest standard and to police itself for the continued prosperity of all restaurants.  Restaurants get people sick on a daily basis, causing their patron’s great physical discomfort and costing society billions of dollars annually.

The FINDER study showed that over half the restaurants in the cities studied were unsafe. People get sick at restaurants all the time but because most restaurants only get inspected 1 or 2 times per year and it generally requires a doctor’s diagnosis to make an official foodborne illness complaint, it continues to get underreported and these unsafe restaurants are continuing to operate without any regulatory consequences.

The FDA needs to mandate through the Food Code a minimum standard of daily active managerial control procedures and digital record keeping for all restaurants. We recommend that they take a Criticals First approach to this standard.

Restaurants need to implement their own FSMS that promote daily active managerial control and then work those systems to run safer operations for their own well being. I’ll leave you with this thought. 80% of restaurants fail within the first 5 years, we in the industry have always equated that to bad operations, locations, and management. Would you ever go back to a restaurant that got you sick? I wouldn’t, I haven’t. I wonder how much of the restaurant failure rate could be potentially contributed to patrons not going back to restaurants that made them sick?

 

 

 

 

 

The Number 1 Factor For Reducing Critical Food Safety Violations is…

The number one factor for reducing critical food safety violations is…

Implementing a Food Safety Management System (FSMS) with daily Active Managerial Control (AMC)

The following is from the FDA REPORT ON THE OCCURRENCE OF FOODBORNE ILLNESS RISK FACTORS IN FAST FOOD AND FULL-SERVICE RESTAURANTS, 2013-2014 Prepared by the FDA National Retail Food Team 2018

Here are my conclusions from the study so you don’t have to read the whole thing

  1. The number 1 factor that predicts less food safety violations, in both Fast Food and Full Service restaurants,  is a well developed, documented and executed daily Food Safety Management System (FSMS) that drives Daily Active Managerial Control (AMC). 
    1. FSMS were the strongest predictor of data items being out-of-compliance in both fast food and full-service restaurants: those with well-developed food safety management systems had significantly fewer food safety behaviors/practices out of compliance than did those with less developed food safety management systems.- Page 39
  2. That the presence of Certified Food Protection Manager (CFPM) on staff positively correlates to having a better FSMS but doesn’t replace an FSMS.
    1. However, upon multi-factor regression, the correlations between certified food protection manager and out-of-compliance become non-significant, indicating that food safety management systems and not the presence of a certified food protection manager predict compliance with food safety behaviors/practices. – Page 40
    2. In fast food restaurants with a CFPM who was the person in charge at the time of data collection, the average FSMS score was 2.645, while the average score for fast food restaurants with no CFPM employed was 1.822. In full-service restaurants, scores were 1.842 and 1.348, respectively. This suggests that having a CFPM present at all hours of operation enhances food safety management systems and reduces the number of out-of-compliance food safety behaviors/practices. – Page 40
  3. If you don’t have a CFPM working every shift, then you might as well not have one at all.
    1. In fact, having a CFPM who was not present was almost no different than having no CFPM at all for the out-of-compliance food safety behaviors/practices evaluated in this study. – page 40
  4. The types of Jurisdiction the restaurant resides in and whether the health inspections that you receive are: Scored/Not Scored, Publicly Available/Not Publicly Available, or that Employee Food Safety Training is Required/Not Required didn’t affect the scores of the Fast Food or Full-Service Restaurants. This makes sense as health inspections only happen a couple of times a year. The quote below is for full-service restaurants but they stated similar conclusions for fast food restaurants
    1. Full-service restaurants located in jurisdictions that graded establishments did not have significantly different results (p = 0.0819) compared to full-service restaurants located in jurisdictions that did not grade. Establishments located in jurisdictions where there was a requirement to make inspection results public did not have significantly different compliance (p = 0.6820) than establishments in jurisdictions that did not require reporting. Establishments in jurisdictions that required food handler training did not have significantly different compliance (p = 0.0626) than establishments in jurisdictions that did not require food handler training. – Page 30
  5. Of the foodborne illness risk factors investigated in this study, restaurants had the best control over inadequate cooking. There remains a need to gain better control over improper holding/time and temperature and poor personal hygiene. Page 39
  6. Multi-unit operators had significantly lower instances of out-of-compliance items compared to single unit operators. Page 26 This was true for both Fast Food and Full-Service Restaurants.

In layman’s terms, you have to have food safety procedures for your restaurants daily operations, you have to train your team on how to follow those procedures, most importantly your managers have to complete daily monitoring activities (via checklists, logs, and/or IoT) to ensure that you are identifying and fixing any issues that you find in real-time.

Here is my shameless self-promotion:

  • The OpsAnalitica Platform is the backbone of any good Food Safety Management System. It provides your teams with access to Procedures, Training, and Monitoring functionality in real-time customized to every location and is the foundation of a well developed and documented FSMS. Please click here if you would like to learn more about our platform and how we can help you set up your FSMS. 
  • Time and temperature control was the number one food safety issue identified for both full-service and fast food restaurants. The OpsAnalitica platform integrates with temperature sensors and with our proactive notifications we can alert management to critical food safety violations in real-time so that any problems can be fixed immediately before they affect customers.
  • I have been shouting these conclusions for the last 3 years to everyone in the industry via this blog and our marketing and sales efforts. It feels good to be backed up by this study but the fact that in 68% of Fast Food and 86% of Full-Service Restaurants that there was an observance of improper temperature control means that the status quo system of having paper-based food safety procedures that are largely pencil whipped with no accountability or above store visibility is failing. We as an industry need to take this stuff more seriously.

As food service professionals, we owe it to ourselves, our customers, and our brands to take the conclusions from this report seriously and implement FSMS and daily AMC into our restaurants.

As I mentioned in a blog a couple of weeks ago, we heard from one of the head lobbyists for the NRA that they expect the FDA conversations around mandatory digit record keeping in restaurants to begin in 2019 and would expect to see updates to the food code in 2021. I believe that the conclusions of this report play right into those initiatives for well documented FSMS programs.

Excerpts from the Study

The rest of this blog is going to be summarizing the report and displaying the most interesting charts and graphs from it.  I will try to do my best to make my opinions clear and differentiated from the findings. The above link is my blanket footnote for the information below as you can reference the original text at any point.

Purpose of the Study:

The purpose of each restaurant data collection during the current 10-year study period is to investigate the relationship between food safety management systems (FSMS), certified food protection managers (CFPMs), and the occurrence of risk factors and food safety behaviors/practices commonly associated with foodborne illness in restaurants.

Let’s define FSMS (Food Safety Management System)

FSMS refers to a specific set of actions (e.g., procedures, training, and monitoring) to help achieve active managerial control. While FSMS procedures vary across the retail and food service industry, purposeful implementation of those procedures, training, and monitoring are consistent components of FSMS.

AMC (Active Managerial Control)

To help prevent foodborne illness, the FDA Food Code emphasizes the need for risk- based preventive controls and daily active managerial control (AMC) of the risk factors contributing to foodborne illness in retail and food service facilities. AMC is “the purposeful incorporation of specific actions or procedures by industry management into the operation of their business to attain control over foodborne illness risk factors” (FDA, 2013). A food establishment’s achieving AMC involves the continuous identification and proactive prevention of food safety hazards.

Why are FSMS’s important?

Inadequate FSMS are thought to contribute to the worldwide burden of foodborne disease (Luning et al., 2008). For example, HACCP has been shown to have positive effects on food safety, but the poor implementation of HACCP has been described as a precursor to foodborne outbreaks (Cormier, 2007; Luning et al., 2009; Ropkins and Beck, 2000).

What is a CFPM (Certified Food Protection Manager)

A CFPM is an individual who has shown proficiency in food safety information by passing a test that is part of an accredited program (FDA, 2013a). Research has shown that the presence of a CFPM is associated with improved inspection scores (Hedberg et al., 2007; Cates et al., 2008, Brown et al., 2014). Hedberg et al. (2006) found that the major difference between outbreak and non-outbreak restaurants was the presence of a CFPM.

Table 3 describes how the team rated the risk of different food service establishments, they didn’t study any risk category 1 businesses.

Table 4 talks about what they were looking for in the study.

This next image describes the different scoring criteria for FSMS’s. 

The Results

Study Conclusions

 

Thank you for reading this blog. If you want to learn more about OpsAnalitica, go to OpsAnalitica.com.

 

5 Tips to Writing Better Restaurant Line Checks

Chef-Tasting-Food-300x294

Every restaurant should be doing some form of line check for each meal period.  The reason you do line checks is to ensure that your food is safe and ready to serve to your guests.  Line checks allow you to catch your mistakes before your guests do, which reduces food comps.  They also allow you to check for line readiness:  FIFO is being observed and your not selling newer food and wasting older food, proper portion controls are in place, back-ups are thawed and that the line is stocked and ready for the rush, which improves execution and sales.

We have one client who saved 1.2% in food cost when they were doing line checks on the OpsAnalitica Platform vs. when they weren’t.  That equated to a $2,200 per month savings from just better food management.

The hard part about writing good line checks is that you have competing priorities to deal with.  You have safety and quality vs. time.  If your priority is time, then you can sacrifice safety and quality to speed up your line check.  If your priority is brand protection (safety & quality), then you can have an incredibly thorough line check, but it could take longer to complete.

Like all things in this world, compromise is going to be the key to writing an effective line check.  You want to check everything but do deeper checks on high-risk items. Below is a photo of one of our client’s line check kits, it includes tasting spoons and a dirty spoon container, gloves, test strips, alcohol wipes, and thermometers.

Line Check Kit

  • Line check question Attributes:  the perfect line check question should include the following parts.
    • Item Name:  Alfredo Sauce
    • Pan Size:  1/4, 1/2 pan
    • Safety Control:  temp range or time
    • Portion Control:  weight or portion size
    • Par: how much you have to have on hand to make it through the shift
    • Every Item Checks:
      • You should make sure that each item is properly labeled with the make and expiration dates because that is what the health inspector is going to do.
        • Note in the comments if item wasn’t properly labeled.
      • Taste every prepared item: dressings, sauces, sides; that is safe to sample for taste and quality.
        • You can make notes in comments if items taste bad.
        • The key here is to fix bad tasting items so your guests don’t have to taste them.
    • This is where the competing priorities come into play as you could temp each item, confirm the above attributes and taste the item and describe it’s quality but to do all of that becomes three questions that need to be answered. That line check could become very long very fast.
    • Staying with the example of Alfredo sauce I would write the question like this:  Ex:  Alfredo Sauce – 1/4 pan – 145 to 160 – 3oz ladle – 1 up 1 warmer.
      • SPEED TIP:  Don’t have the people conducting your line checks make comments on things that are good only have them comment on exceptions.
    • I would also have them record the temp of this item because it has a proper holding temperature range.  Not all items do, but when there is a top range that could affect quality, then it is a good practice to get those temperatures because it would give you data to analyze if food costs are high.
  • Temperatures Questions:
    • Temp everything but you don’t need to record every temp.
      • In my opinion, it is ok to temp items on the line, verify they are safe and note that you checked the item without writing down every temperature.
      • This practice will ensure safety and speed up your total line check.
    • Always record temps for:
      • High danger items: chicken, shellfish, pork, sauces like hollandaise, etc..
      • Delicate items where a too high or too low temperature could drastically affect quality.
      • High food cost items where you could take a big comp hit if this item goes bad before you have a chance to sell it.
    • Think like a health inspector.
  • Time as a control:
    • It is perfectly valid to use time as a control on items that need to be stored at room temperature.
    • The key to this kind of question is recording the time that the item went out on the line so you can prove that you are timing it and making sure you are discarding the items after 4 hours.
    • It is also good to have some kitchen timers or something that you can set to show that you are paying attention.
  • Critical Item Questions:  These are items that a health inspector is going to check and could get you a Critical item violation.
    • Make sure you have all the critical items covered every shift on your line checks:
      • Food being stored properly in walk-in
        • Cross contamination, labels, covering, soups and sauces being cooled correctly.
      • Sanitizer Buckets with test strips
        • You may even want to record the ppm on your line check.
      • Hand sink is clean, stocked with soap and paper towels, and that the water is hot.
      • Nothing on the floor
      • Chemicals stored in the correct place away from food.
  • Shorter is better than Longer:
    • You don’t get any awards for writing longer line checks.  It comes down to balance between brand protection and speed to complete.
    • Focus on the most critical items for your restaurant and leave out any fluff.
    • I see too many super long line checks that take 50 to 90 minutes to complete.
    • When you complete your line check go and test it in the real world for a couple of shifts and see how long it takes to complete and try to pair it down if it is too long.
    • Make sure that every question can be answered by every location or give the option for N/A.

Writing line checks is not sexy work, but a good line check is a foundation for running better operations and growing sales and profits.  Once you write your line check the only way to ensure that it is getting done correctly is to Inspect what you Expect and to follow-up with your managers when you see inconsistencies.  Without follow-up, your line check could be pencil whipped, and your investment in it will not show any returns.

If you would like to learn more about how OpsAnalitica can help you hold your managers accountable and effortlessly follow-up, then click here to watch our demo video.

 

 

Norovirus Prevention on the Disney Fantasy

In one of the best Seinfeld episodes ever, George is trying to get a bigger apartment in his building only to find out that a survivor of the Andrea Doria shipwreck got it because the coop board felt bad for the guy.  Read the script below:

Screenshot 2016-05-17 16.31.45

 

The buffet can be the real ordeal on cruise ships because its when the guests are all touching utensils, and if anyone of them is sick and didn’t wash their hands very well, you could pick up a bad case of Norovirus. I got this cruise ship norovirus outbreak data below from http://www.cruiseminus.com/cruise-ship-norovirus/.

 

2016 Cruise ship Norovirus outbreaks

What I think is interesting is that most of the outbreaks affect less that 10% of guests, the average is 7.3%.  The news makes it seem that the whole ship is hold up in their rooms in agony when in reality only 1132 people were sickened out of 20,027 passengers.  I don’t want to make light of ruined vacations, and I’ve heard that Norovirus illness is brutal. It is just more evidence that the news media is looking out for themselves and their ratings above all else.

Please enjoy this blog originally published on 3/22/16:

I recently completed a cruise on the Disney Fantasy, and I noticed quite a few norovirus prevention measures being employed by Disney on the cruise that I wanted to point out. I must state for the record that I didn’t go into the kitchens or interview any of the team members, these are just my observations on what I saw Disney doing as a passenger on the ship, I think you will find some of these measures interesting.

Returning to the boat from being on-shore there is always a sanitizer station and a crew member requesting that you sanitize your hands.  The crew member looked at me like I was crazy when I was taking this picture but then when I got done and started to walk onto the ship she asked me to sanitize my hands.  You are going to see that most of what Disney does, pertains to hand washing, but that is probably one of the most important anti-norovirus measures you can take besides supply chain safety.

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Here are two different hand washing direction signs posted for passengers.  One was in our cabin bathroom, and one was in a public restroom.  Norovirus is commonly spread when people have fecal matter or vomit on their hands and then touch ready made food or buffet utensils, or they get their germs on a fork or plate, and a crew member touches those items while bussing a table and then could spread it to themselves or other guests. I thought this was a very rational and different approach to battling norovirus.  In the industry, we are used to seeing hand washing signs for the crew but not in restrooms for customers.  Cruise ships are very densely packed, and isolated places and norovirus could just as easily be spread from a guest to a crew member as the other way around.

IMG_4444 IMG_4446

Here is an example of a sign that I have never seen before in a public restroom.  This sign says to use a paper towel to avoid touching doorknobs.  The OCD part of me loves this sign.

IMG_4447

It doesn’t matter which restaurant you are going to on the ship: a buffet, a sit-down, or a quick service outlet.  There are always anti-bacterial towels in dispensers, on the counter, or being passed out by a crew member.  There are two dinner seatings every night, and when there is a mass seating in a dining room, there are several crew members standing at the door handing out wipes to every passenger.

IMG_4442IMG_4445

Other things that I noticed:

  • All crew members that were handling food on the buffets were wearing gloves.
  • I watched crew members changing out utensils on the buffet mid shift replacing with fresh utensils.
  • They have an over abundant amount of crew members cleaning and sanitizing tables in between guests.
  • On the welcome aboard video, they point out where the ship’s doctor is located and ask you to please report there if you start to feel ill, they also discuss proper hand washing.
  • Any piece of equipment that a lot of passengers come in contact with is cleaned regularly.  For instance, you will see a crew member assigned to keeping the soda station on deck 11 clean and stocked all day long.
  • Across the ship, you will see crew members wiping railing and stuff down as a regular part of their daily cleaning routines.
  • The Cabana’s buffet probably serves a couple of thousand people for breakfast and lunch every day.  It is one of the cleanest buffets that I have ever seen, you just don’t see food spillage on it, there are people maintaining every station during service.

One last thing that I thought was cool was this portable electric faucet, see below.  This faucet was set up at an outdoor smoothie station in the middle of a sidewalk on shore.  There was no running water to this station as it is portable.  The station has two buckets, 1 for clean potable water, and the second for waste water.  Having personally worked a lot of outdoor events at country clubs and restaurants this was the first time I had ever seen one of these devices.

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Some things that Disney does on the cruise ship would be easy to duplicate in our restaurants, and some things would be harder because of the difference in labor spending and labor rates.  Obviously having hand sanitizer in your restaurant in the entrance way or passing our sanitizer wipes when guests are seated would be very easy to do.  Paying to have a person stand in the doorway of your restaurant to hand out sanitizer wipes would probably not be cost effective.  Bathroom signs when done well don’t bother me.

If you think about this from Disney’s perspective, they have two main things they have to worry about.  If they get passengers sick, then they have a bunch of angry customers and like the rest of us, they risk the long term brand damage that it causes.  They pride themselves on being a premium product.  They also have to keep their teams safe and healthy because once they are at sea, they can’t call in other people.  Imagine a scenario where a couple hundred of their crew and passengers get sick on a cruise; it would stress their entire system and with the close quarters on a cruise ship and limited resources, it could be a real mess for them and cost them a lot of money.  I think there were over 4,000 passengers and 1,500 crew members on our cruise.

I hope you found these precautions interesting and if you would like to learn more about how OpsAnalitica helps you run safer, better, and more profitable restaurant check out our demo video here.

Maybe You Shouldn’t Do Checklists

How could paper checklists be bad?  Paper checklists are bad because people pencil whip them or lie on them.  We recently conducted a survey of over 100 restaurant owners and managers.  94% of respondents believed that their teams weren’t completing their checklists accurately.

Which raises the question; why would a sane person have their team complete checklists that they know are being lied on?

A sane person wouldn’t, because they know that it is a waste of time and money.  It costs money to develop checklists.  It costs money to print checklists.  It costs money to complete checklists.  It costs money to file and store checklists and when it is time to get rid of them it costs money to shred and recycle checklists.

Yet as an industry we do spend money to have people complete checklists on paper even though we know they are being pencil whipped. Why do we do that?

The limitations of paper checklists aside, the fact that we still have people pencil whipping checklists in our businesses is because even a 30% accurate checklist is better than no checklist.

Let’s stick with the thought that even a partially completed checklist is better than no checklist.  A person who completes a line check 30% accurately is still checking 30% more items than a person who skips their line check.  They have a better chance of catching an error in preparation or finding an unsafe item and correcting it before it get’s someone sick.

Imagine a world where restaurants employees completed all of their checklists accurately and when they didn’t you were at least able to catch that they didn’t and coach them about the importance of doing them correctly.  How much better would your restaurant run?

If every shift your team checked everything that was important enough to make it on a checklist.  They checked every temp, tasted items, checked sanitation and portion controls.  The restaurant when opened was clean and ready for guests.

Do you think that running better operations would translate into more sales, safer restaurants, happier guests, and most importantly more profits?

Of course running better ops would accomplish all of that.  If running better operations couldn’t do that then we wouldn’t spend a penny on training or any operational initiative, we would only spend money on marketing because the only way to get sales would be to con people to come to your restaurant one time.

By the way, this is what the restaurant managers and owners told us on our survey.  100% of them agreed that checklists could help them run better and safer operations.  That is right 100%.

Because checklists when completed diligently and followed-up on work.

The problem with paper checklists is that you can’t tell when they were started, when they ended, who did them, and if they were pencil whipped.  Basically paper cannot help you hold people accountable.  Also, this is for multi-unit owners who cannot be in every location every day, you can’t magically see paper hanging on a wall in a restaurant from your office.

What our industry needs is a checklist solution that is as easy to complete as paper checklists but allows us to hold our managers accountable and get visibility into our daily operations.

This solution would need to do the following things to be effective:

  • Needs to hold managers accountable by tracking time, location, response cadence, and  actual geo location.
  • Needs to be able to identify unsafe operating conditions and communicate that to management.
  • Needs to as easy as paper to use, with minimal training time.
  • Needs to be as flexible as paper being able to capture different types of information, not just True and False questions.
  • Needs to be better than paper allow you to utilize mobile technology to take pictures and leave additional comments.
  • Most importantly you need to be able to get at the data you are collecting and start using it to make better operations decisions.

A solution that could replace paper checklists and hold people accountable at the store level up through the corporate level of a system could drive better, safer, and more profitable restaurants.

A restaurant company that could deploy a solution like this and start holding their unit managers more accountable and harness this new feed of operations data could optimize their operations and beat their competition by running more efficiently and making better decisions.

Think about the data that corporate restaurant management has access to today.  They have register, inventory/ordering, and customer service data and they use that data to make the best decisions that they can.  If you used a checklist solution to capture pertinent operations data at the store level, which would drive better operations.  You could also use the date with your other data feeds such as sales, inventory, and customer service to create a complete picture of how your restaurants were operating. Remember that operations affect sales, inventory, food costs, and customer service, its not he other away around.

It would be a major competitive advantage for any restaurant system that took advantage of operations data.  Look at how companies like Walmart, FedEx, Nordstrom, and Google use data to streamline operations and generate increased profits.  Restaurant chains could do the same thing if they had the data, which they have, but just need to get it into an accessible, usable format.

How do you do this in your chain?  You should implement the OpsAnalitica Inspector platform in your system for daily operations checklists and corporate inspections.  The OpsAnalitica Inspector will hold your managers and teams more accountable at the restaurant level and our custom reporting and data warehouse will provide you with the data that you need to optimize your business.

The future of the restaurant industry is possible today for those chains that are bold enough to take the first step forward.  If you are interested in learning more please click here and set up a call with our team.

The Restaurant Industry’s Dirty Little Secret

Busy Kitchen

The dirty little secret in the restaurant industry is that we know a lot of our restaurant safety-documentation is not completed accurately.

Every day in restaurants across the country, restaurant managers are supposed to complete temperature logs, line checks, and other safety checks to ensure that they are operating safely. A lot of those logs are pencil-whipped, or to state it more bluntly they are lied on.

The reasons for the lies are numerous:  ran out of time, who cares no one ever looks at them, I know we are safe, we’ve never gotten anyone sick, etc.. This behavior is so commonplace in the industry’s culture that it is almost a joke.

I was recently in a meeting with some restaurant executives, and we were discussing their line checks, their checks included food temps and sanitation items. The company’s policy was restaurant managers would complete two line checks a day, one before each meal period.  Area managers would review the line checks once a quarter when they performed their site inspections. I asked these executives, are these checks getting done twice a day? When your area manager is going through their site inspection are they seeing 180 of these a quarter?  Everyone in the room chuckled, “yes, they all get done accurately every shift”  was the ha ha response.

Daily checklists not being completed or being completed inaccurately seems to be a common issue no matter how large or small the restaurant system is.  We recently talked with a chef of a restaurant who was working there six days a week, and she didn’t feel like she knew if the checks were getting done accurately and she was only managing that location.  That speaks to how hard it is to manage in restaurants, you can’t be everywhere all the time.  We spoke with a multi-unit franchisee who stated that he has walked into his restaurants and looked at the temp logs on the wall and knew they had been pencil whipped.

We recently conducted a survey of over 100 restaurant managers and owners from around the world. Here are the results:

  • 100% of respondents believed that conducting checklists could help them run safer and more profitable restaurants
  • 42% of respondents conducted daily line checks
  • 45% of respondents conducted daily temp logs
  • 88% conducted checklists on paper

This final stat is the kicker:

  • 94% of respondents believed that their checklists were not being filled out accurately.

Here is the light at the end of the tunnel.  We just did a deep dive with one of our clients who has used the OpsAnalitica platform for 20 months. They were able to cut critical food safety violations by 55% when they did their daily checklists.  How; because they saw stuff that was wrong every shift and they fixed it. When you actually do your checklists, they do work and you run safer and better operations.

The reason pencil whipping is so rampant in the industry is because 99% of the time it doesn’t matter.  It is a hard truth to hear, but it is true.  If it mattered, then we as an industry would have corrected this issue by now.

To fully understand pencil whipping we have to break down the safety checklist into it’s two parts:  checking to ensure items are safe and documenting the items safety status.

When you pencil whip a checklist or log you are committing two sets of lies:

  1. You are stating that you checked the safety of the items on the checklist.
  2. You are falsifying a safety document.

The reason that you are being asked to check the safety of these items is because they have been identified as high-risk factors that could contribute to getting someone sick or even potentially killing them.  If you check the item and catch a problem, then you have an opportunity to fix that problem before it affects your guests.  That is why we do the checks.

When you don’t check the safety of high-risk items or of your sanitation procedures, you are rolling the dice with other people’s lives and it is no different than driving a car drunk or shooting a gun into a crowd.  It can have the same exact consequences.  I know that sounds dramatic but ask the families of those people who died from eating a Blue Bell ice cream last summer.

The second offense is just dumb; you should never put your name or complete any official document with knowingly false information on it.  This goes back to that early statement that 99% of the time this won’t come back to haunt you until the day it does, and then you will regret that decision.

If your restaurant get’s someone sick, look at Chipotle they just had their safety documentation from every unit subpoenaed, are you going to want to stand by all of the false documents.  The lawyers and investigators are going to use that documentation to show your wanton disregard for your safety procedures.  If you are a manager or an owner, take this one step further; do you think your employees would lie for you on the stand in that scenario?  My guess is that when asked they are going to tell the truth.

Here is something that most restaurant owners don’t know about, most restaurant liability and food borne illness insurance policies have writers in them that release the insurance company from responsibility if the restaurant is acting unsafely.  Here are some actual writers that we pulled from a policy:

  • 3.13  Any Food Borne Illness that occurs after the Insured has knowledge of a defect or deviation in the production, preparation or manufacture of the Insured Product(s), or circumstance(s) which have or are likely to result in such deviation or defect, and fails to take corrective action.
  • 3.19  Any dishonest, willful, wanton, fraudulent, criminal or malicious act, error of omission by the Insured(s).  This is your Pencil Whipping Clause!!!!
  • 3.21  Any Food Borne Illness that occurs where the Insured is or ought to be aware that the Insured is in violation of the corporate mandated food handling or food procurement procedures and has not taken action to rectify the violation.

We have all heard about insurance companies doing whatever it takes not to pay out claims are you willing to risk that consequence on pencil whippers.

What do you do?  

I hope that we all have come to the conclusion that completing checklists accurately makes sense because we are acting responsibly as operators and we are looking out for the best interests of our customers and brands.  If you are going to incur the costs of creating and mandating that checklists get completed, then you have to hold manager’s accountable for getting them completed on-time and accurately.  That means that every shift that safety and quality checklists are completed before we start serving guests and that the managers take the time to check each item and record the items safety status on the checklist.  That is the only way that you can generate an ROI from your checklists and ensure safe operations.

There are a ton of ways to do this.  If you are going to stick with paper checklists, then you can have the person time date stamp when they started and ended each checklist.  If you are a multi-unit operator, you can have your restaurant manager’s fax in their checklists to corporate each day or scan and email them.  The reason most people don’t do this is because it is a giant waste of time and it pushes the burden of managing all of this paper to different people in the business.

With today’s technology, the easiest way to manage your checklists is to use a checklist system app.  These are the features you should be looking for in a checklist app:

  • Works on different devices: phones and tablets
  • Works on different operating systems, technology moves to fast and you don’t want to be stuck on an obsolete platform
  • Doesn’t require wifi to complete a checklist – wifi isn’t always great in kitchens and can stop you from inspecting outside
  • Supports different question types – not just True False – you need to be able to capture different types of answers and report off of them
  • The system should be able to reference additional help and training documentation so inspectors can understand the why behind the question and the answer scale
  • Is quick – the quicker it is to complete a checklist the greater the chance it will be completed every shift accurately
  • Make sure you can build custom reports so you can get the data you are collecting in a format that works for your organization
  • The system should hold managers responsible and track what is happening when they complete an inspection
  • Should be easy to use and train on so that checklists are completed consistently across the organization even as you experience turnover
  • Should be easy to administrate or even better the provider should offer a full-service plan so that you can get up and running quickly and stay up and running over time – remember employee turnover

Pencil whipping has been happening in our industry for years, but it needs to come to a stop.  There is a benefit to completing these safety and operational checklists every shift.  Not only at the restaurant level to ensure that you are safe and ready for service but also at the corporate level where operations data can be collected and used to assist the restaurants.  Keeping people safe is a moral and brand imperative and the best way to do that is through solid operations that are driven by checklists.

If you aren’t using daily checklists to manage your operations, or you are using paper, there is a better way.  I invite you to click here to learn more about the OpsAnalitica Platform.  We can help you digitize your checklists and get you up and running doing your checklists a better way today.  We have a managed service offering that takes all of the burdens of setting up and managing your checklist program off of your shoulders and puts it on ours, we can have you up and running in as little as a day.  If you are a DIY type of person we have a plan that fits your needs.  The first step is jumping on a quick call and learning more about how we can help you.  Click on the learn more button at the top right of your screen.

 

What does the Ford Pinto have to do with restaurants?

Ford Pinto

Do you remember the Ford Pinto Case from the 70’s?  Ford Pintos had a flaw in their design, and if they were hit in a rear-end collision at a speed greater than 20 mph the fuel tank could rupture, and there could be a fire.  Unfortunately, several people were killed in accidents because of this issue. 

The reason this case is still talked about today is because Ford management knew about the problem and decided based on cost estimates that it was more expensive to fix the cars than to pay the families of people who were killed in accidents.  

What does the Ford Pinto case have to do with running a restaurant today?  

We recently conducted a survey of restaurant managers and owners.  Here are some of the results:

  • 100% of respondents agreed that using checklists would help them run more profitable and safer restaurants.
  • 88% of respondents used paper checklists in their operations today.
  • 94% of respondents believed that their teams were not completing checklists accurately.  

I know that none of us want to be a Ford executive from the 70’s in our restaurants.  How could you sleep at night knowing that you aren’t doing enough to keep people safe?

If you conduct checklists on paper, and you are like the 94% of respondents who believe your checklists aren’t getting done accurately you have two choices:  

1.  You should stop doing checklists altogether; why would you waste the money you are spending on labor having people do checklists inaccurately that you don’t use?  FYI: we think this is a bad idea.

2.  Or, you should start doing checklists correctly and holding your team accountable using the OpsAnalitica Inspector.  Our clients see:

  • A 1/2 to 1% decrease in food cost when they conduct daily line checks with follow-up.  
  • Area managers spending more time coaching restaurant mgrs and less time doing busy work.
  • Safer restaurants across the board and have the documentation to prove it.
  • Increased manager and employee engagement as restaurants start operating safer and more profitably.  

You will never get the benefits of doing checklists:  better, safer, and more profitable operations; if they aren’t being completed accurately.  The problem with paper checklists is that you can’t hold people accountable. 

With OpsAnalitica, we drive accountability by:  

  • Time/date stamping and geocoding each response.  
  • Calculating how long it took to be completed.
  • Showing answer cadence.
  • Tracking who completed the inspection and their answers.  
  • When checklists were started and submitted.

It is only through accountability and follow-up that you can truly get the ROI on your checklists.  

I invite you to download our FREE ebook: Restaurant Profits: It’s about Nickels, Dimes, and Quarters by clicking here.

In this eBook we discuss how using checklists can help you improve restaurant profitability.  Get you copy emailed to your inbox here.

Fighting Norovirus with OpsAnalitica

Screenshot 2016-02-09 19.27.40

There is no medical cure for Norovirus; if you contract it you simply have to ride it out. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything you can do as a multi-unit restaurant manager to protect your restaurants, brand, and profits.

With Norovirus, the best offense is going to be a good defense. Here are some steps we are suggesting that you take to protect your company.

  1. Train  your team about Norovirus:
    1. Train your current team and add Norovirus training to your new hire on-boarding.
    2. Get our Free Norovirus Training Guide by clicking here.
    3. Make sure you cover the following topics:  symptoms, transmission, recovery period, employees responsibility to alert management if they contract Norovirus or get sick.
  2. Use the OpsAnalitica Inspector to digitallycapture employee signatures after they receive Norovirus training.
    1. Create a simple checklist that you have employees fill out stating that they have received Norovirus training and they understand their responsibility to notify managment.
    2. This documentation will be time and date stamped and provided written proof of your pro-activity on this subject.
  3. You need to start asking employees every shift if they are well enough to work or experienced any Norovirus symptoms in the last 48 hours?
    1. You can do this in pre-shifts or even field time clock questions if your system supports that.
      1. One note, if you put this into the timeclock make sure there is a way for the time clock system to notify management that someone said yes immediately.  The worse thing you could do is identify on your time clock that someone was experiencing symptoms but not take appropriate action before the shift.
    2. You have to be prepared to send people home if they say “Yes”.
  4. Use the OpsAnalitica Inspector to create daily shift logs.
    1. The problem with paper or old school digital shift logs is that they are very difficult to report off of across an organization.
    2. If you convert your antiquated shift log to an OpsAnalitica shift log, you will be able to ask true-false questions with comments.  Ex:  Did you send anyone home today for being ill? (If True, please document in comments)
    3. This allows you to run very detailed reports across your system to help you identify risk and ensure that your unit managers are doing the right things.
  5. If you do send someone home for being ill, you should immediately conduct a deep cleaning of the areas that the person worked and document that cleaning with the OpsAnalitica Inspector.
    1. Use a flexible deep clean checklist to document that you took immediate action and what areas of the restaurant that you cleaned after the employee went home.
    2. You should also track in the inspector and on your waste sheets any food that your team through away because it came into contact with the sick person.

64% of Norovirus outbreaks come from restaurants.  The news media and patrons are becoming more educated about Norovirus and are holding restaurant management responsible.  The key to fighting Norovirus in your operations is to educate your team and document your procedures.  If you get someone sick, and there is an investigation,  you ability to prove through documentation that you did the right things from a management perspective: training, sending sick employees home, deep cleaning and throwing away food is what is going to help you move past the outbreak.

Where OpsAnalitica takes documentation to the next level is that we time-date stamp and geocode every submission.  Because the data goes to the cloud we can build very detailed reports that look at all units in your chain and then email relevant data to the right people on a schedule.  Now corporate management can be made aware of any issues that arise pro-actively and have all of the data they need at their fingertips.  Checklists with effortless follow-up drive compliance and better operations.  To learn more about the inspector, schedule a demo by clicking here.

Norovirus is a fact of life; it can be a death sentence for the very young, old, and infirmed.  It can be a restaurant killer for those operations that don’t take it seriously.  Buffalo Wild Wings stock went down over 6% in a couple of days from a small isolated outbreak in KS.  Chipotle’s stores have seen a double digit drop in sales year over year and Norovirus has played a huge part in the sales decline.  Could your restaurant handle a 30% decline in sales for six months plus?  I don’t know of many that could.

Get a free copy of our Norovirus Training Guide.

Feds Subpoena Chipotle’s Documentation

The Denver-based chain was served with another subpoena on Jan. 28 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California requiring Chipotle to produce documents and information about the company’s practices at all restaurants system wide. click here to read full article 

I don’t think you have to be a legal genius to see what the government is trying to do here. My guess is that they are going to try and show that Chipotle wasn’t operating safely and that it was a system wide problem.   

By subpoenaing documentation across all restaurants it is pretty easy to build a case where the numbers look bigger than the percentage.  When you have 1,755 restaurants, NRN Top 100 Unit Count June 2015.  If each of those locations missed 1 temp log a week that is 91,260 missed temp logs in a year.  

Do you even know if your restaurants are doing their daily checklists? If you don’t have an automated system how could you?   

How many temp logs does your chain miss in a week?  Even if you did them all you are bound to have lost a few from soda spills and misfiling.   

What is even worse is if you get a bunch of those documents back from the restaurants and they are incomplete, or appear to be pencil whipped.  That would be direct proof that you aren’t doing your due diligence as a company.  If the government can prove that management knew that the restaurants weren’t all operating safely and wasn’t doing anything about it, there is your Ford Pinto case.   

Anyone that follows OpsAnalitica knows that we have been harping on this stuff forever and a day because it matters.  

Here is the crazy thing, if Chipotle was an OpsAnalitica client and they conducted all of their checklists and inspections on our platform, they could pull a report and send it off.  

Restaurant safety goes beyond training, culture, daily checklists.  A large part of it is documentation and record keeping.  You can say you are safe all day long but can you prove it.   

There is a reason that one of the 7 HACCP principles is record keeping and documentation.   

We are committed to helping you run safer restaurants.  From our white papers, to our platform, to our new managed service license.  We will help you run the safest restaurants you can and do it in the most efficient way possible.   

Click here to download our free guide, 7 Tips to Faster Better Line Checks.

Pencil Whipping Happens

Let’s talk about the art of Pencil Whipping. Here’s the “official” definition from Wiktionary:

Verb
pencil whip ‎(third-person singular simple present pencil whips, present participle pencil whipping, simple past and past participle pencil whipped)

(idiomatic) To approve a document without actually knowing or reviewing what it is that is being approved.
(idiomatic) To complete a form, record, or document without having performed the implied work or without supporting data or evidence.Knowing the auditors were coming in just a week, we chose to pencil whip the quarterly inventory forms for the last year.

Synonyms
rubber stamp

I suspect that most of you know this is happening in your restaurants whether it be line checks, temp logs, pre-shifts, restaurant audits, safety inspections, or any of the other checklists that you may be performing on a regular basis. There are several excuses for pencil whipping any of these, some more plausible than others, but when it comes to food safety none of them are acceptable.

Running late for example. Tommy was recently talking to a buddy of his and he admitted that when he was a chef he would wind up in a situation where he was running behind and would just quickly initial everything on his line check because it was required to be filled out. Note that I didn’t say that he completed his line check, he simply did the minimum required to be compliant with the rules. This is a classic Pencil Whip. All well and good until someone in your restaurant gets sick because you served food that wasn’t the right temp.

Another very common Pencil Whip stems from the mindset of “Nobody looks at these anyway so why should I invest any time in it I’ve got better things to do. I know everything is fine.” This is very dangerous, but it also makes sense. If every day you fill out a checklist and then file it in a drawer in the office, knowing that nobody ever looks at it. Then twice a year the paper shredding truck arrives to make room for more. You might feel the same way. Make sure you are following up on your checklists.

Then there’s the “I forgot so I’ll just fill it out later” pencil whip. This is going to happen from time to time, but if you are tracking them you will know that it wasn’t completed on time. This can now be a coaching moment on how important line checks are to the overall success of the operations.

If you are doing line checks, inspections, checklists, etc. without follow up I will guarantee you that some of them are being pencil whipped. This is putting your business at risk.

It’s very easy to put off food safety improvement until tomorrow, until tomorrow is the day you get someone sick. Look at Chipotle, I just read today that they have been subpoenaed to produce documentation about practices, chain-wide, for the last 3 years. We already know how much their sales have suffered recently, but there are huge costs associated to these types of things as well. It’s a big deal.

Make sure that you are doing everything that you can to minimize food-borne illness. Start by ensuring that your line checks are being completed diligently and not pencil whipped. Click here to download our free guide, 7 Tips to Faster Better Line Checks

Keep on Inspecting!