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Archive | June, 2010

Making The Grade: Should Restaurants Post Food Safety Info?

Food SafetyThe Center For Science In The Public Interest, an advocacy group that has tangled with the food service industry before over menu nutrition labeling, is pushing for letter grades of restaurant’s latest health inspections to be posted in the front window.

The grade works on a 100-point scale and corresponds with a restaurant’s score: 90-100 being an A, etc.  A city councilwoman in Washington, D.C. has been pushing for a city ordinance requiring restaurants to display their letter grade, and her efforts have created some controversy in the food service industry.

Restaurants, led by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), point out that health inspections are not consistent from state to state or even city to city, making a grading system less reliable.  They also worry that restaurants who have had long records of cleanliness might suffer or even go out of business as a result of one bad day with the health inspector.

Yet some cities have already instituted a posted letter grade system, with good results.  New York City is the most recent convert.  Their letter grade system was instituted in March of this year.  Las Vegas, St. Louis, and Los Angeles also have similar systems.  In New York, restaurateur concerns about losing business have been addressed by allowing establishments to appeal a bad grade and are given a grace period to clean up their act before a bad grade is actually posted.

In Los Angeles, which has the longest-running food safety letter grade system, the local health department has found that hospital visits due to food poisoning have dropped 20 percent in the 11 years since their letter grade system was established.  Nationally, 76 million people are sickened by foodborne illnesses every year, and 40% of those can be traced to restaurants.Food Safety

Los Angeles eateries with an “A” grade also saw a 6% increase in sales, tying good food safety practices with real revenue instead of fear of the health inspector.

Restaurant health inspections remain difficult for consumers to obtain in many U.S. cities, and making them available is running hurdles much larger than industry opposition: budget cuts in health departments across the country has made it more difficult to institute letter grading systems.  Many health departments have been forced to cut staff, and do not have the funds to build the infrastructure required to support a letter grade system.

Regardless, the coming years will see a steady improvement in the availability of health inspection reports, whether through a letter grade system or through online archives on health department websites.  Rather than resisting the coming changes, the food service industry would do well to get out ahead of this issue and focus on making the grade every time.

This will surely result in higher expenses for restaurants already operating on razor thin margins.  But the statistics show that foodborne illness can be reduced significantly when health inspection information is made public, and the time has come to give consumers the information they demand and well deserve.

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Can Your Equipment Disappear?

Over the past few months, I’ve done a lot of writing and editing of materials describing sustainable food service operations. In addition to helping operators fulfill their potential for socially responsibility, sustainability practices typically lower overall program costs, boost local economies and create new revenue streams. Equipment end-users increasingly understand this; consultants are positioning themselves to offer sustainable facility designs, equipment packages and program procedures.

Where are food service equipment manufacturers and dealers in all this? Many are working at changing their corporate culture to instill “green” principles and practices such as reducing use of raw manufacturing materials, decreasing energy consumption during business hours, switching to recyclable packaging and alternative fuels, and offering more ENERGY STAR™-certifiable equipment. None of these changes is cheap or easy, and none of them would be taking place if the economic case for sustainable operations wasn’t becoming self-evident: Going green now saves money, sometimes initially and sometimes over time, for food services and their E&S suppliers.

All this is good news for industry members who regard restaurants and noncommercial food services as potential sources of social progress, as well as centers of nutritional support, socialization and income. Installation of equipment that consumes less natural resources, preparation of locally grown seasonal foods and facilities incorporating a maximum of sustainable materials all help to safeguard our environment, enhance communities’ financial futures and convince customers that their dining destinations are dedicated to their short- and long-term welfare.

Everyone in the equipment and supplies distribution channel, as well as commercial and noncommercial operators, has reason to celebrate the opportunities for professional improvement sustainable practices are creating. Finding new, socially responsible ways of saving money, for food services and their customers, is a winning response during a time marked by the worst economic downturn since the 1930s and a social movement for accountable stewardship of our remaining natural resources. So, customer counts and check averages have declined further than during any other period in living memory; successful restaurateurs and food service operators have adapted by becoming leaner, greener and more responsive to diners’ needs and expectations.

Before we declare the world and our industry fully saved, however, food service equipment suppliers and end-users will need to overcome a looming and formidable obstacle – the difficulty of recycling or re-using today’s kitchen appliances and their component systems.

It is true that recycling of engineered manufactured goods is not mandatory in North America. Not yet. Nonetheless, it’s easy to envision social or legislative pressures “forcing” food service equipment makers to build food storage, prep, production, holding and display pieces that can be processed into new products or disposed of in environmentally neutral ways at the end of their useful life. Many operators already participate in the conversion of leftover foods and other organic waste into alternative fuels and growing environments that produce fruit and vegetables for their own programs. It’s pretty close to a sure thing that sooner not later, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, serving counters and their ilk will also have to become just as reusable, if they don’t disappear into the great Cycle or Renewal altogether.

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Culinary Alumni Unite!

Alumni Helping Alumni, a place where New England area culinary alumni can come together and help each other in business.

Two culinary alumnus have joined together to create an online public marketplace to help fellow New England area, culinary alumni network and take advantage of the skills and offerings that other culinary alumni can offer them.

The idea originated as a way to help other fellow culinary alumni in these difficult economic times. Many culinary alumni have gravitated to other fields that are associated with cooking, but are no longer in the kitchens themselves, and now own their own businesses. Alumni Helping Alumni is aimed at growing both those alumni member businesses and assisting other culinary alumnus in helping them in this tough economy, by offering either a discount or offering a break on products or services.

The group welcomes all culinary alumnus from the Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales and New England Culinary Institute, that would like to participate, with no personal cost to themselves, aside from pledging to give a percentage discount or other incentive off of services or products to fellow alumni who would like to do business with them.

Participants can offer whatever they would like, to either all three New England based schools or only their own alma mater, the only thing that is required is that participating alumni pledge to follow the code of the ethics created by the group and to offer something in return to other alumni. Alumni taking advantage of the network do not need to be network “members” but they are encouraged to give back if they have an avenue for doing so.

We foresee the network growing to include all types of businesses, whether it be wholesale or retail goods, services pertaining to any aspect of the food service industry or food service establishments agreeing to give service or discounts to other alumni.

For more information about Alumni Helping Alumni please visit or Heather Turner at 860-326-0721.

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