According to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 Americans get sick from eating contaminated food during the year. While not all of these cases are directly related to food purchased or consumed at foodservice operations, all restaurant and foodservice establishment owners, management and staff know they must be mindful of proper food safety practices and ensure all employees are aware of appropriate food handling measures.

At the 2013 National Restaurant Association show, Sealed Air representatives held a number of discussions with restaurant operators and foodservice managers and executives regarding solutions designed to enhance food safety, particularly as the topic relates to back-of-house operations. Sealed Air’s unique position as the only company offering a full array of packaging and hygiene solutions for the foodservice industry resulted in a great deal of interest in the organization’s perspective on the latest foodservice food safety trends.

Borrowing a line (and tweaking it a little bit) from an old Ford Motor Company ad campaign, “‘Food Safety’ is Job One” in the foodservice industry, now more than ever.

Contamination can occur at any stage of the supply chain, and some areas are outside of foodservice operators’ control.  It’s important to focus on those areas where diligence on the part of the operator can have an impact.

One such key area is selecting packaging. Understanding the importance of packaging can help operators select supplier partners committed to maintaining the integrity of food products and ingredients. Packaging that seals tight and is durable can keep out contaminants until products are ready to be used in preparing delicious meals.

Packaging materials that enable clear, easy to read labels also play a role in food safety. With dates, handling and preparation information clearly labeled, back-of-house employees are less likely to take chances that jeopardize the safety of customers and threaten the reputation of the operation.

More popular recently are advanced variations in easy-open packaging such as Sealed Air’s Cryovac® brand QuickRip® and Grip & Tear® bags for fresh meat. The knifeless opening features on these packaging formats reduce the need to expose the products to sharp utensils commonly exposed to cross-contaminating pathogens. In addition, removing the need to use knives and other sharp objects to open packaging reduces exposure of employees to cuts, scrapes and gouges.

Hygiene is, of course, also a key food safety concern for foodservice operations. According to the FDA’s Report on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Institutional Foodservice, 52 percent of non-compliant foodservice establishments were cited for poor handwashing among food handlers. Another 18 percent were cited for contaminated equipment and/or not doing enough to protect against potential food contamination.

The lesson to be learned here: there cannot be enough reinforcement of proper hygiene, handwashing and safe food handling procedures. In addition to expert consultants, resources exist, such as training materials from Sealed Air’s Diversey hygiene solutions brand, that can help foodservice operators efficiently implement and manage optimal safety and hygiene practices. The financial and time investment in these areas is worthwhile, especially when compared to the potential brand equity and financial damage caused by an outbreak of foodborne illness traced to a restaurant or other foodservice operation.

With concerns such as food costs, menu planning, customer experience, staffing and much more, foodservice operators have a full plate of things to worry about. Shoring up food safety and making sure all staff members recognize the importance of compliance with regulations and procedures should help ease operators’ minds with the knowledge they are doing everything within their control to make sure their business is not faced with a food safety crisis.