Tackling the challenges of Food safety in the hotel trade
Food safety in the hotel trade can be challenging.
A survey by Emprise identified hygiene and cleanliness as the #1 priority for hotel guests. Anyone who watched Gordon Ramsay’s Hotel Hell series will know that even the smallest guest houses and hostelries are capable of falling well below standard without the right management.
The consequences can be catastrophic – on average, one negative review on social media translates to around 30 lost customers.
For the big hotel chains, there is the added threat of guilt by association. The negative publicity of a salmonella outbreak in Bali can be felt by a sister hotel in Miami. When the strength of your brand is the consistent service and experience, one rotten apple damages the whole basket.
Why food safety is harder for big hotel chains
To put things in perspective, Marriott Hotels operates 5,144 hotels globally, InterContinental has 5,174, while Wyndham Hotel Group manages a portfolio of 8,100 hotels worldwide.
The sheer scale of operations, therefore, is staggering. At the world’s largest hotel – The Venetian in Las Vegas – more than 700,000 in-suite dining meals – and more than 2 million banquet meals – are served each year. Yes, you might argue, but these hotels also employ legions of staff (2,500 in the case of The Venetian).
They operate as small cities beneath the luxury suites. True – but the more staff there are in a hotel, the more likely each employee is to assume that someone else is dealing with safety checks, reporting, resolution and so on. The hotel manager could visit 20 rooms a day and it would still take a year to complete an inspection of the entire hotel. Consequently, responsibility for monitoring performance has to be delegated through several tiers of managers. Where the catering operation is concerned, the challenge isn’t just in meeting the requirements of thousands of guests three or more times a day. It’s the logistical battle of managing huge kitchens with potentially hundreds of suppliers and cold/dry storage that could supply a town. Recruiting the staff – from the chefs to the porters – who can operate at that level of scale is not straightforward. Even executive and sous chefs from top international restaurants would struggle to meet the pace and level of activity of a large hotel. By contrast, those from a cruise ship or large corporate background will be at home.
Food poisoning does not respect reputation
Where food safety is concerned, complacency can be lethal. No kitchen is too prestigious or staffed by too many award-winning chefs to remain beyond danger.
Some of the best known hotels in the world have experienced disastrous food safety episodes. The five-star Langham Hotel in Melbourne, for example, hosted the ‘High Tea from Hell’ in 2015 when 86 diners fell ill with salmonella. In some countries, the hotel is not only liable for compensation, but the kitchen staff themselves can be held criminally responsible. In Dubai, a hotel chef was jailed in 2014 for an outbreak of food poisoning.
Compensation claims are a growing threat
In recent years, the issue of food safety has taken on extra significance because of the phenomenon of bogus compensation claims by British tourists, typically in Mediterranean resorts. With legal teams openly soliciting business around Spanish resorts, holiday-makers are encouraged to cover the cost of their holiday with a celebratory insurance claim.
In Mallorca, there has been a 700% increase in food poisoning claims since 2015. It may be morally wrong – in fact it’s illegal – but the consequences for big hotel chains are significant. Not only must they follow the right procedures on an ongoing basis to prevent food poisoning outbreaks, but they must also maintain legally watertight documentary evidence as a defence against potential compensation claims.
How big hotel chains can manage food safety
The universal standard of food safety for the hospitality industry is the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) system. Mandatory in most food service processes in the USA, HACCP aims to prevent food safety issues before they occur, as opposed to catching them when it may be too late.
Another international standard that incorporates the principles of HACCP is the ISO 22000, which aims to define the Food Safety Requirements a company needs to meet and includes additional requirements not covered in HACCP, such as allergen control.
The main areas where food safety matters
Using both HACCP and ISO 22000 as the guiding food safety management system, big hotel chains should have clearly defined processes for the following areas:
1. Employee personal hygiene – all staff must be properly trained and monitored in the correct standards for grooming, presentation, clothing, hand washing, and food service. There should be a clear SOP for each element, and regular records kept for quick consultation by management.
2. Facilities and equipment – should be monitored for cleanliness, correct running temperature, ventilation and drainage where applicable.
3. Cleaning and sanitation – there should be a regular, planned cleaning schedule for equipment, including disassembly, washing, rinsing and reassembly.
4. Maintenance – all machinery and appliances should have a planned maintenance schedule according to manufacturer recommendations.
5. Supplier review – food should be purchased from approved, certified vendors. Records of origin and traceability must be kept, and food checked on receiving for signs of spoilage or damage.
6. Hazardous chemical control – staff should be fully trained in chemical storage and use, and hazardous chemicals must be kept in dedicated areas at all times.
7. Waste management – a fully traceable process must be in place for the disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste, including storage ready for collection.
8. Pest control – there should be regular inspection and certification from a licensed pest control officer. On an ongoing basis, staff should implement a pest management program designed to identify, isolate and address signs of infestation.
9. Storage – dry storage must be checked for pest infestation and ventilation, while cold storage must be regularly checked and approved for correct temperature and the avoidance of cross contamination. Correct temperature logs must be kept of all hot foods cooled for cold storage.
10. Labelling – all stored ingredients must clearly indicate origin, date and barcode in case of recall. Cooked ingredients must be correctly marked and wrapped with clearly visible date.
For each of these, HACCP involves a seven-step approach:
1. Identify what could go wrong
2. Identify the critical control points (CCPs) where things can go wrong
3. Set critical limits for each CCP
4. Set up checks to monitor each CCP
5. Decide what corrective action to take for any issue
6. Establish a verification method to prove the HACCP plan is working
7. Provide documentary proof that the HACCP plan is working
Implementing food safety procedures
Because big hotel chains work according to rotating shifts, supervisors will often be checking or monitoring the processes of colleagues who are no longer on the premises. For this reason, visibility and transparency are essential – not to mention consistency. All employees need to be trained in a single process for recording, verifying and authorising checks. Ultimately, though, the hotel catering manager is responsible.
The flow of information needs to be sufficiently clear and seamless that the manager can locate and communicate essential information at any point, whether it is internally or to external suppliers or inspectors.
Those employees lower down the management chain are responsible for making checks – it is up to supervisors to gather, collate and record the various data. Nothing tests the efficiency of a food safety programme like a food poisoning outbreak or product recall. If the food operations supervisor does not have the resources to identify, isolate, track and resolve a food safety issue immediately, there is work to do.
In the frenetic food preparation environment, the HACCP app allows anyone from kitchen staff to supervisors to obtain complete visibility of all processes anywhere, any time – from the palm of their hand. It gives the ability to capture and monitor fridge and freezer temperature, food traceability, stock rotation, cleaning schedules, delivery records, hot holding, rapid cooling, service temperature, pest management and oil testing/change with fast, paperless access. When necessary, users can quickly print food labels, date codes or allergens – or scan and save them through QR codes.
The app also provides instant food safety training through a qualified food safety supervisor and reference guidelines at the touch of a button.
This isn’t something big hotel chains can postpone
Hotel chains are getting bigger, and the challenges are increasing. The old way of working with all the records posted in a manager’s office are insufficient in a global context. Hotel chains need a way to facilitate visibility across the entire supply chain. And it’s not just a case of cost – saving time and cutting out wastage. It’s also about legal compliance – customers are more litigious and hotels must protect themselves.
Resources The law – standards, inspections, policies https://www.food.gov.uk/enforcement/regulation/europeleg https://www.food.gov.uk/enforcement/regulation/foodlaw https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/multimedia/pdfs/fsactguide.pdf