Risk is, and forever will be, synonymous with serving food to the public.
Poor hand hygiene is now the single most cited factor in outbreak investigations. It is just one more food safety factor to manage, but one that must be addressed aggressively - sufficient to match up with the aggressive lawyers, armed with DNA technology and poised to defend any one of your customers. The threat of foodborne outbreaks is much greater than the Workman's Comp and chipped teeth cases that have dominated the agendas of many risk management professionals in the past.
The percentage of operational risk due to poor hand hygiene could well be classified as "Unnecessary Risk" because it is controllable largely through handwashing and doesn't require major capital expense.
Although foodborne illness remains very underreported, the customers are getting more savvy and less tolerant of outbreaks and recalls. "I think with the media attention over the past couple of years, people are more careful when they go to physicians to make a connection between some event, especially when they have a gastrointestinal-type disorder, and physicians are quicker to make a connection," said Dr. Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Medical Center.
After very successful rounds of investment in temperature control, handwashing is now the biggest single remaining threat to serving safe food. Controlling equipment has proven to be considerably easier than controlling handwashing behaviors. Motivation, training and employee turnover become factors.
We must now learn to control a process that has never been under control. Ignoring handwashing as a priority is easy until faced with a crippling lawsuit. It is often trivialized, feeling that there is nothing that can be done, " we are doing everything we can." Some will correctly say the real problem is keeping ill employees out of the kitchen and keeping ill customers at home (i.e. cruise ship passengers). An understanding of the legal principle of Strict Liability will quickly change that attitude for all but the high-roller risk taker.
This intangible handwashing factor with its lack of standards must be met head-on with the same rigor and level of professionalism as major menu changes.
Don't be discouraged by these three realities:
- The risk will never be zero,
- The risk is rising in spite of the food getting safer and
- Ill employees and ill customers are a constant threat to the health of your business.