It’s one thing to have a corporate food safety program but entirely another to make sure the executive suite is aware of its importance and the rest of the company buys into a food safety culture, experts said at the 2014 Food Safety Summit.

Food safety programs must be well-funded, integrated in all systems and departments, and receive support starting at the CEO level.

For food safety directors, it begins by having an elevator pitch ready at all times to grab the attention of higher-ups.

For Jorge Hernandez, senior VP for Food Safety & Quality Assurance at US Foods, the line is “I’m the one who is keeping you out of jail,” which he used when he met his new CEO for the first time. It got him a meeting with the chief exec a week later, during which he was able to explain everything the company was doing to ensure safety and protect the company from legal liability. (read more…)

Even though National Food Safety Month is coming to a close, it’s important to remember that food safety is critical during every month of the year, at every stage of foodservice operations. Traceability along the supply chain is essential to food safety, and barcodes and other technology are making it easier than ever for suppliers and restaurants to communicate.

The Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative was launched in 2009 by 55 founding foodservice companies, the National Restaurant Association and others to drive waste out of the supply chain, enhance food product information for restaurant buyers, and lay the foundation for traceability and food safety. The goal of the Initiative is for 75% of the industry (measured by revenue) to adopt GS1 Standards for product/location identification and data sharing by 2015.

I interviewed Scott DeFife, executive vice president of policy and government affairs for the National Restaurant Association, about why NRA joined the initiative and how it and other programs can affect traceability and food safety. (read more…)

After years of food-makers, restaurateurs and consumers struggling with unclear definitions and making due with inconsistent labeling, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month issued an official definition of what constitutes a “gluten-free” food. I interviewed Anita Jones-Mueller, president and founder of Healthy Dining Finder, on what the new rules mean for restaurants and how they can offer healthy, safe food for gluten-free diners.

Under the FDA’s new requirements, items voluntarily labeled as “gluten free” must contain fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten. Does that standard apply to the restaurant industry?

Yes, the final rules released by the Food and Drug Administration on August 5, 2013 state that by August 5, 2014, any use of the term “gluten-free” or similar claims made in restaurants and other retail food service establishments will need to meet the new ruling that defines the standards for “gluten-free.”

The FDA ruling states that using the term is voluntary, but if the term “gluten-free” or similar terms, such as “free of gluten,” “no gluten,” or “without gluten” are used, then they must meet four criteria, primarily that the item does not contain 20 or more parts per million of gluten. (read more…)

A few short years ago, restaurants in New York City were warily waiting to see how a new letter-grade system, modeled after one put in place in Los Angeles more than a decade earlier that required restaurants to post the results of their health department inspections, was going to play out. As New York continues to fine-tune its program, other cities have created similar systems and earlier this year San Francisco and then Louisville, Ky., took it a step further by including the grades with individual restaurant reviews on Yelp.

New York City chefs and restaurateurs have been vocal about their concerns since the system took effect in July 2010, including some who spoke to Serious Eats in June about the confusion and hardships they’ve experienced. Many said it’s not the system itself but the manner in which it has been enforced that has caused them the most sleepless nights. Inspectors’ knowledge of the foodservice industry varies widely, they said, while the rules don’t always correspond with the reality of food safety and following each of the rules to the letter can sometimes threaten an eatery’s ability to serve quality food in a timely manner. (read more…)

As farm to table dining becomes more popular, it’s not uncommon to see ingredients’ origins printed on a menu. Knowing which farm grew the heirloom tomatoes in their salad or where the chicken on their plate was raised gives many diners confidence in their food choices. Still, knowing the exact journey food takes from farm to fork is rare, but advances in technology are making the supply chain safer and more transparent than ever before.

Imagine opening a menu at a national chain restaurant and being able to scan a code on each item to see not only where it was grown, but its nutritional information and whether it passed through any facilities where it may have come into contact with allergens. Traceability at the individual restaurant level could be a game-changer for diners with food allergies and restaurant operators who need to react quickly in the face of a recall. (read more…)