Food Safety is never a sexy topic. I am not aware of any way to make food safety a sexy topic. But it is an incredibly important one and one that never seems to be far from the headlines. The CDC estimates that contaminated food sickens 48 million Americans each year.
Sometimes, when an outbreak affects enough people or impacts a single restaurant group, food safety becomes a little more relevant in our minds. In fact, 2015 had two such examples. Over the busy summer months, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, a company that prides itself on its use of excellent ingredients, rigorous standards when it comes to social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency, hit a listeria-related food safety snag. This resulted in the chain shuttering its popular dessert themed locations for a while as it looked to rectify the issue. Just last month, Chipotle made the very public decision to close all of its 1,900 stores nationwide on February 8 to institute revised safety protocols.
Chipotle and Jeni’s have one key tie that binds them: their success is linked to serving fresher foods with fewer preservatives and less processing.
This larger movement goes by different names from Farm-to-Table to Farm-to-Fork, and it emphasizes the strategy of buying local whenever possible and serving food that’s unprocessed or less processed, free of antibiotics, GMO’s, and organic when possible. What this philosophy potentially ignores, or at least discounts, is that the preservatives and the processing and the freezing and all of that stuff that we want to move away from in the name of healthy eating, were originally put there to keep us safe from pathogens that can make us very sick.
Will instances like these spell the end for the Farm-to-Table movement? Not by a long shot. The desire to eat better by avoiding preservatives and overly processed foods has an incredibly long shelf life. But it comes with the non-negotiable requirement that operators must be more aware of food safety in preparation and handling of raw ingredients. Many operators do a good job of vetting their suppliers but they can’t overlook the importance of their own in-house food safety protocols.
If you have the chance, I would encourage you to circle back to editorial director Joe Carbonara’s September 2015 webcast on food safety where many of these issues are discussed with an outstanding panel of industry experts.