McDonald’s hasn’t grown into a multinational restaurant chain without doing a lot of things right. And whatever you think of their culinary achievements (or lack thereof), you can’t deny that they’ve built an empire in food service. If one lesson is clear from the rise of McDonald’s, it should be that you don’t build an empire without a premier food safety program. As a recent article in USA Today revealed, McDonald’s is one of the best rated companies for food safety in the U.S.
How do you get that kind of recognition for your food safety program? Through a very clear, extremely stringent program that addresses temperature and contamination issues at every stage in the food preparation process. Incidentally, these are the same principles called for in a HACCP food safety program. The only difference here is one of degree.
So what does a hardcore food safety program look like?
Beef is trucked to a McDonald’s food processing plant in huge steel boxes secured by a steel bolt that can only be cut by an employee at the plant. If it’s opened any other way, they send it back.
The beef is tested for four or five different pathogens before it arrives at the plant, randomly during processing, and after the meat has been shaped into patties and frozen. If a test comes back positive, two hours’ worth of processed beef is disposed of, as well as another two hours’ worth before and after the affected batch.
With those kinds of standards, McDonald’s can be fairly certain their beef patties will show up at any one of their locations clean and ready to serve. And that’s when another round of food safety kicks in.
Each manager kicks off their shift by calibrating their thermometer. Then each meat type that will be served during that shift (chicken nuggets, patties, etc.) is cooked according to specification and then temperature tested to make sure the product is out of the temperature danger zone.
McDonald’s also ensures every patty is cooked properly with a specially designed clamshell grill that does not open until the proper temperature has been reached. That way even the greenest line cook can’t serve undercooked meat. In a high turnover environment like food service, foolproof safeguards when it comes to meeting temperature requirements is key.
Finally, McDonald’s doesn’t forget about the most basic component of any food safety campaign: proper handwashing. At the start of every hour every employee washes their hands, starting with management. And at the half hour hand sanitizer is passed around for a quick cleanup.
Unfortunately, not every restaurant out there has a food safety program even approaching McDonald’s hardcore approach. And not many have the resources or the buying power to dictate exact standards to their suppliers. However, there are some basic things that McDonald’s does very well that can be applied to any food safety program, no matter what your budget is, including standardized temperature and handwashing procedures, a quantitative way to qualify suppliers and the product they provide you, and a system for disposing product that is suspect.
Your program may never get to be as hardcore as McDonald’s. But if you want to build a food service empire, or even stay in business for any length of time, you’d do well to take your food safety to the next level.