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How to celebrate food safety to make a greater impact on your brand

Changing your approach to food safety from regulatory to celebratory can drive improvement beyond your food safety assessment scores. In fact, when you treat food safety as an everyday occasion at your brand, you can create an unbelievable momentum within your team to take personal ownership in serving safe food to your customers.

In fact, we at Steritech often see positive results beyond food safety metrics at stores that have embraced a strong food safety culture. Increases in same-store sales and other key performance indicators tend to correlate with a positive shift in a brand's approach to food safety. These results show that building a strong food safety culture within your brand not only mitigates risk of a food safety incident occurring, but it also builds organizational muscle as you open new locations, and creates operational discipline that permeates other elements of the customer experience.

In our experience working with some of the best-in-class brands, we have come to know what actions drive a strong food safety culture, and were beyond pleased to see these tenets emulated by the winners of the inaugural Steritech Excellence in Food Safety Award recently awarded at the 2019 Fast Casual Top 100 Movers and Shakers banquet.

Here's how you can get started right now to energize your team around food safety:

Lead the way
If you are in a leadership position for your brand, you have the power to openly and prominently position food safety at its core. This will automatically create a trickle-down effect of excitement and energy to act within everyone around you.

As a leader in foodservice, when is the appropriate time to talk about food safety, you ask? All of the time. Consider incorporating food safety into your brand mission, vision and strategy. Or better yet, imagine the impact that will be felt when you unveil your brand's annual report to employees, customers and stakeholders with food safety results printed right alongside sales and revenue numbers. Now, that's making a statement that serving safe food to your customers is just as important as financial success.

Communicate clearly and consistently
Is food safety part of your communications? Newsletters, emails, word of mouth—is food safety at the forefront?

Five Guys, recent winner of the inaugural Fast Casual Top 100 Movers and Shakers Excellence in Food Safety Award, has demonstrated a forward-thinking approach to communicating a food safety culture that has proven successful as they have grown to over 1,600 locations. As one strategy to promote a food safety culture throughout all levels of the company, Five Guys has done research into the best communication practices to resonate with staff-level employees, and applies these tactics to weekly and quarterly newsletters.

Teach values
Training presents an opportunity to show your team more than how to make the best acai bowl. It is an opportunity to explain and reinforce your brand's beliefs and empower your employees to act on them to keep customers safe. Allergen-safe brand Vitality Bowls, honorable mention for the 2019 Excellence in Food Safety Award, has made food safety part of its mission and brand story and makes it a point to carry that story into its training processes.

"Why do we label and date things? Because everything has a certain shelf life, and beyond that shelf life, it's not safe to eat, and it can create bacteria. Why do our fridges have to be at this temperature? Because…," said Tara Gilad, founder and COO of Vitality Bowls, on how ideas are communicated to employees during the training process. "We really focus on the why and explain versus saying you have to do this, you have to do this."

When you help your employees understand the impact of their actions, you give them the knowledge and tools to take responsibility for protecting customers.

Measure as a motivational tool
Set the bar and help your team reach it. Positioning measurement tools as a way to recognize and celebrate when things are done right, and create solutions when things go wrong, makes a healthier environment for authentic assessments to occur.

Five Guys offers monetary rewards for stores that perform well on food safety assessments and other competitions built to motivate employees to adopt a strong food safety culture. Chicken Salad Chick, which received an honorable mention for the 2019 Excellence in Food Safety Award, even celebrates top performers in food safety at its annual banquet, recognizing stores with outstanding scores in food safety with gift cards to throw a party.

Positive reinforcement
Focusing on positive results is actually proven to be more effective. According to a study done by the Harvard Business Review, implementing a 6:1 positive feedback ratio helps teams perform better. Put this into practice by reinforcing six things your team is doing well in conjunction with one area of improvement, and you will likely see them continue to impress in the areas of recognition while striving to fill the gaps.

On the other hand, when food safety audits are tied to negative fallout, such as loss of bonuses, employees may become more motivated to keep up appearances of success instead of putting in the effort to learn and implement best practices. This inhibits you from getting a clear picture of how your team is performing, and puts your customers and your brand at risk.

Oversight that drives solution
The success of a measurement program is dependent on what processes are set up to handle the information it produces. As the foundation for foodservice, you cannot turn a blind eye to any threats to food safety, so it is important to create a solution-oriented culture to find and fix breakdowns. Using a third-party partner that aligns with your vision and culture of food safety can help you perform regular, planned food safety audits that identify recurring challenges. They can also help coach employees and provide them time to make appropriate adjustments before reassessment.

Beyond skills-based issues, audits can reveal patterns as a means to develop operational solutions and simplified processes, further protecting your brand and your teams. Chicken Salad Chick, for example, observed trends in data collected from food safety assessments that revealed challenges in quickly cooling their chicken products. Through their solution-driven approach, the brand has been able to advance technology for safer cooling of its base ingredient.

What is a food safety culture worth? Think about the return on investment. You count on your teams to deliver a unique brand experience to you customers every single day. If you teach and motivate them to put food safety at the core of that experience, you are setting the tone for engaged employees who are invested in the customers they are serving and the quality of food being served.