Not only can food poisoning be an unpleasant experience for the victim, it can also be crippling for the business where the outbreak originates from, whether due to a tarnished reputation for quality, or at worst, a lawsuit. So what is the cost of a food poisoning outbreak to your business, and what can you do to reduce this?
There’s no denying that food poisoning is expensive, there are over 500,000 cases per year in the UK according to research by the Food Standards Agency, and estimates in the US put the cost at $77 billion – almost twice the annual cost of the common cold.
Unfortunately for restaurants, hotels and other catering businesses, research suggests more than double the cases of food poisoning are linked to restaurants than at home. Furthermore, the widespread myth that the last thing you ate was the cause for food poisoning can lead to the victim putting the blame on the restaurant they visited for dinner if they become sick that night. In reality, while some food-borne illnesses can take only a few hours to take hold, most cases begin two to five days after the meal. Only proper testing can really reveal the source.
The stakes can be high when it comes to costs. At worst, where food safety standards aren’t maintained correctly by staff, the business can be hit with hefty fines. On top of that, under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, food retailers must only sell products that are free from harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning. It is relatively easy for victims to sue restaurants as a result, as all they must prove is that the food was not safe, they were made ill, and that the food was the source of the illness, with a raft of no win, no fee solicitors to facilitate this.
Aside from fines and compensation, the true cost of food poisoning can be harder to measure as it can include reduced sales as a result of a damaged reputation, following an outbreak. Word of mouth can spread quickly about someone getting poisoned from a meal, leading to friends and family becoming wary of visiting again.
And thanks to the ease of being able to review a restaurant on Google, Facebook or TripAdvisor, it’s easy for a disgruntled food poisoning victim to post a scathing review – even if your business was not the true source of the food contamination.
Ultimately, good hygiene around food is part of delivering a quality product or service. If you’ve got a reputation for good food and high standards of service, would you want to risk your brand’s reputation by not taking food safety into account?
So how can you reduce the risk of food poisoning?
Fortunately, there are things that can be done. Cultivating a good reputation for food safety and taking steps to avoid outbreaks largely comes down to staff training. Often, E coli cases are caused by employees not washing their hands correctly after using the loo, while salmonella cases are commonly caused by not correctly washing surfaces after contact with raw poultry.
Similarly, cases can arise through the improper maintenance of the kitchen, such as not having the right antibacterial cleaners available or leaving equipment in disrepair.
One of the most effective ways of preventing food poisoning is to set up a Food Safety Management System that complies with the requirements of ISO 22000. This system is globally recognised and includes the seven HACCP principles:
- Hazard analysis
- Critical control point identification
- Establishment of critical limits
- Monitoring procedures
- Corrective actions
- Record keeping
- Verification procedures
A good food safety management system ensures good hygiene is second nature to your team and any business in the food industry can gain many benefits by implementing one, including restaurants, hotels and caterers.
The ISO 22000 standard sets out a system to help businesses take control over food safety covering three main areas:
The first is to document all your business’ food related processes, including management, planning, day to day activities and operation. This makes it easy to manage food safety at all stages of the business, ensuring all members of staff are aware of how food safety is a factor in the processes and tasks they carry out.
The next step is to establish prerequisites for the food production environment. For hospitality businesses, this would cover the environment that the food is made or served in. For example, this includes ensuring that the kitchen is laid out in a suitable way to promote good hygiene, such as ensuring raw meat is stored and prepared a safe distance from vegetables, avoiding contamination.
Finally, a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Plan is setup to identify and prevent food safety hazards when it comes to handling food products.
Making food safety part of your company culture
The overall outcome of implementing a Food Safety Management System, such as ISO 22000, is that it provides an easy way to make good hygiene and food safety part of your company culture, ensuring it is taken into account in all stages of your business. This reduces the risk of food poisoning outbreaks, limiting the chances that food safety could jeopardise your brand’s reputation.
Furthermore, it offers additional evidence that food safety is taken seriously, improving your reputation. This helps protect your brand against any false accusations when it comes to food poisoning, since there is proof that food safety is taken into account at all stages, whether in the kitchen or front of house.
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