Choose Suppliers Well,
In Case Your Customers Demand Rare
Food service quality assurance managers may not like it, but medium-rare beef is making a comeback. It never really went away in fine-dining restaurants, where ordering a well-done steak is typically frowned upon by chefs, waitstaff and any red-meat lovers within earshot. But the gourmet burger chain and gastropub trends are now feeding the demand for pinker, juicier beef.
There’s a line between giving customers what they want and protecting them from the risks of serving undercooked meat. It’s usually posted on a wall sign or at the bottom of a menu and reads like this: “Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”
Safety warnings aside, food industry professionals know that if a foodborne outbreak occurs as a result of their product, the public won’t blame foodies who like a little moo left in their meat. So what’s a family dining, bar and grill, fast casual or casual chain to do to reduce their risk if a customer wants a medium-rare steak — or, worse yet — if a line cook takes a protein portion off the grill too soon?
Food Safety Management Systems Protect Your Product and Your Brand
Wholesale meat buyers can start by insisting that their suppliers have safeguards in place to ensure that only safe, wholesome protein items ever make it to their kitchens. Large restaurant chains, in particular, have driven safety innovations in meat processing food safety management systems by:
- Setting strict quality and safety standards for the protein products they buy — often much higher than regulatory requirements.
- Enforcing those standards through on-site program audits.
- Maintaining those standards by only buying from suppliers who meet/exceed them and demonstrate a long-term, consistent food safety record.
Food safety management systems (FSMS) help meat suppliers and their customers protect their products — and their brands — by shifting focus from responding to contamination to preventing it. An effective FSMS goes beyond the application of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) principles and regulatory requirements to ensure food safety and quality. It’s a formal program strategy that includes specifications, procedures and processes, verifications, validation and documentation.
And, because third-party audits can’t guarantee that every protein portion they purchase meets their standards every time they order, FSMS reduces buyers’ risk by ensuring that their suppliers regulate themselves.
Quality Criteria Help Evaluate a Supplier’s Safety Commitment
To gauge a meat supplier’s commitment to quality and safety, restaurant and retail chain buyers should look for a company that promotes their FSMS as part of their brand. For instance, Bridgeview, Ill.-based Stampede Meat invites customers to visit their raw and cooking facilities and discuss their FSMS from a micro-standpoint.
“We work with our customers to learn what their expectations are and have developed our FSMS, which we call the Stampede Safety Lock Advantage Program, to ensure we exceed them,” said Adam Miller, Stampede’s Vice President of Technical Services. “We continually apply safety interventions from other sectors to improve our overall program.”
Miller stressed some key components to help evaluate a meat processor’s FSMS:
- Tight Temperature Control
Temperature is a meat processor’s first line of defense,” he said. “Since meat is perishable, it is vital that all raw products are checked, monitored and documented at every phase of processing — from when it arrives on the truck until it’s shipped to the customer’s dock.”
- Cross-Contamination Prevention
Having defenses in place to prevent and eliminate potential cross contamination is critically important. These include touchless entry onto the production floor and a captured boot program (typically only found in ready-to-eat facilities). Stampede has incorporated these defense measures as an extra layer of protection in its raw plant as part of its Safety Lock Advantage Program.
- Multi-Layered Intervention Steps
“We were one of the first portion control steak operations to add an anti-microbial intervention (or a wash) to sub-primals prior to cutting steaks,” Miller said. “We continue to demonstrate that leadership by now incorporating multi-hurdle interventions throughout our process to reduce/eliminate potential pathogens for our customers’ products.”
- Pathogen Testing
One of the best ways to ensure your systems are working to protect against contamination is to conduct frequent sampling of your products. N-60 testing collects multiple samples (a minimum of 60) per line, per shift, throughout the production day. This is typically the last step in the process prior to packaging. Product is not released to the customer until the safety of that production run has been validated.
- Independent Lab Validation
Stampede utilizes an independent lab to conduct all testing. This is critical to ensure the integrity of every step in Stampede’s Safety Lock Advantage Program, but is equally important for all companies that process proteins to ensure the integrity of their safety systems.
A restaurant’s success depends upon giving customers what they want — be it well-done, medium or rare. But many consumers only pay attention to food safety issues when a foodborne illness outbreak occurs. By making sure their meat suppliers have an effective FSMS in place, restaurants can add an extra level of safety at the point of purchase to protect the quality and value of their brands.