Priority number one: food safety and training

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In last month’s edition, we reviewed the many challenges that public-health issues can present for both the concession operation and the theatre at large. This month, the National Association of Concessionaires is holding its annual convention in Boston, and its number-one mantra is concession education and training. In conjunction with the NAC Convention’s goals and as a follow-up to last month’s column, a deeper examination of food safety and the role of training is in order. Together, they are priority number one when it comes to protecting the consumer and they are vital to the health and well-being of the concession stand.

Food safety can be summarized in two words: health code. The top priority that concession operators must adhere to is their state or local health-code guidelines in regards to food safety and preparation. This is primarily because health-code guidelines have been well-researched and implemented and they in fact protect the public’s safety as well as the operator’s liability. Secondly, if you do not adhere to health-code guidelines, your operation will be fined at the least and shut down at the extreme.

Health-code guidelines vary from city to city and state to state, with certain states more stringent than others. (Did someone mention California?) However, there are certain basic tenets that appear in most health-code guidelines such as refrigeration temperatures, cooked meat temperatures and pesticide usage—well-documented procedures that prevent illness. Food safety is not just about preventing liability, it is about providing an experience to your consumer that is not harmful to that consumer. The cost of adhering to health-code guidelines can be debated, but what cannot is the negative effect of ill consumers at a public establishment.

The implementation of food-safety health-code guidelines begins with the construction of a facility. Without the proper construction of an eating establishment, the building will not be open for business. But once the facility is built to standards, and the equipment and the food are ordered, someone has to prepare and serve. This is the second half of food safety: proper training. Following food-safety guidelines requires your food-preparation training to be complete, accurate and administered. It is not enough to know the health code, it has to be followed through with the preparation and serving of food products, every day. Having a solid training program for food preparation also contributes to the bottom line. A clearly defined program gives the workforce structure and procedures to insure a consistent, positive experience for the consumer.

Food-preparation guidelines can be developed internally and many mid-size and larger companies have internal training programs that are intended to serve two purposes: food safety as well as efficient operation. But many mid-size to smaller companies turn to organizations to help with them with standard practices as well as best practices. The Naitonal Association of Concessionaires has training programs that address both of these areas. They offer food-safety certification programs as well as concession manager certification for best practices. These programs are nationally and regionally based as well as available online. For more information about obtaining training with the NAC, please visit their website at www.naconline.org/education.

Another source for certification programs and training is the National Restaurant Association. ServSafe™ is the program that the NRA offers its members to understand and obtain food-safety certification. The NRA offers training courses and certification programs, webinars, and white papers on food safety, safety regulations, and even nutrition. They also have a program titled ServSafeAlcohol™ to help guide you through the safe and legal ways to serve alcohol in public venues. The NRA holds food-safety conferences throughout the U.S. on a scheduled basis to help businesses stay on top of the latest changes to food-safety practice. For more information, please visit their website at www.restaurant.org/foodsafety.

Industry organizations are a source of information and assistance in running an efficient, safe, profitable concession operation. The concession area is a critical component of the theatre operation and needs to be run correctly. On their website, NAC states, “An estimated 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths are attributable to food-borne illness in the U.S. every year. The costs of poor food safety (lost business, destruction of contaminated foods, litigation, etc.) can cripple a business.”

Companies of all sizes must make proper food preparation a top priority. Whether they come with internally designed and managed programs or with the help of industry organizations, food-safety health-code compliance and food-safety training are essential. They will keep your business running, but even more important, they will protect the consumer who is coming to your theatre for entertainment and a safe experience.

Please send any comments to Anita Watts at anitaw@reactornet.com.