Is It Safe?

Assessing The Potential Risk Of What You Receive. by Wyman Philbrook

In the classic 70s movie Marathon Man, the character Dr. Christian Szell, the Nazi war criminal played so menacingly by Sir Lawrence Olivier, continually asks the film’s lead character, played by Dustin Hoffman “Is it safe? At this point in the movie neither the audience nor Hoffman’s character knows the answer or purpose of the question. The film’s classic repetitive line came back to me as I started writing this food safety column since my question to all foodservice managers is the same. Is it safe? Is the food you ordered and are now having delivered to your restaurant’s loading dock, safe? How has it been stored and handled up to the point you accept responsibility for it?

Have you chosen your suppliers wisely based on quality and standards or was the lowest price your only determining factor and you have no idea whether your supplier takes food safety seriously. When you visit a grocery store for the first time to buy food for your family, what are some of the things as a foodservice professional that you notice? (We never really stop being on the job, do we?) Does the food look appetizing? Is it fresh? Is it displayed well? Is the store clean & organized? Is the staff knowledgeable and helpful? Are the prices high or low compared to other stores? I am not sure about you but all of the first questions are important and then I come to the question of pricing and decide if there is value based on the answers to the proceeding questions. So how do we get product in our establishment that we can feel confident about regarding their safety? Instituting key policies and procedures that control as much of the risk as possible should be paramount for you as a foodservice professional. Some of these are the following:

Due Diligence

Your peers in the restaurant/foodservice industry are some of the best resources for information on the condition and handling of food products by their current and former suppliers. They can tell you the good, the bad & the ugly, regarding local suppliers. Before making decisions to use a vendor, request a tour of their facility to see for yourself the condition of the plant and/or warehouse.
Is it clean and organized? Are the employees dressed appropriately for their job? What is the age and condition of the facility? What is the temperature of the facility? Do you see conditions or evidence of pests? Ask questions about recent inspections, if they have a HACCP plan and are they audited against one of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) recognized standards. Do they have a designated QA/QC or food safety individual or department? Look for visible evidence that temperatures are being taken, equipment and utensils are being cleaned and sanitized and that food safety is stressed in the facility. i.e. posters and signs stressing the correct procedures and actions.

Vendor/Supplier Policy

Establish a policy of your expectations and minimum standards that you want from your suppliers. Do you want them to have a HACCP plan? Do you want them to have certain certifications or be in the process of attaining them? The large corporations such as big box retailers and national & international restaurant chains are also making food safety standards & certifications a requirement for companies to do business with them. Large national & regional corporate foodservice companies are also making this part of their purchasing agreements. You should make arrangements for how recalls and traceability is going to work so you can include these in your own policies & procedures for these issues.
Require at a minimum, a Letter of Guarantee from your supplier that they will follow generally accepted food safety practices. Ask how the temperatures of products are monitored at their facilities and on their delivery trucks. Many suppliers use temperature monitoring devices such as data loggers that record temps, temperature indicators that change color if it goes above a certain standard or onboard recorders, which in some cases can provide a print-out with your delivery.

Hotelex/UBM January 2019 728×90

Standard Operating Procedures

If you have standards for your suppliers and the products you receive you also have to conduct training and develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for receiving. Who is responsible for checking the product and accepting responsibility by signing the invoice? What temperatures or conditions are established for each type of product? How do they recognize food safety issues such as temperature abuse, inferior quality, damaged goods or possible pest activity?
When asked the article’s title question, you should have reasonable confidence in your answer.
Next month we will address the types of certifications and safety regulations/standards that affect your suppliers.
Philbrook Food & Beverage Consulting & Training specializes in preparing food service establishments to address all food safety issues by assisting with the development of programs, staff & facilities. We offer customized on-site and public training in HACCP & Food Safety issues. Check out our class schedules and contact info at for more information.