Just three months after the much-anticipated opening of its first New York City restaurant, Chick-fil-A voluntarily closed the Manhattan store. Citing “restaurant maintenance and facility updates,” the restaurant remained shuttered from December 30, 2015 until the morning of January 5, 2016, while it responded to a total of 59 violations, ranging from fruit flies to improper sanitation of wiping cloths.
Last fall in the Pacific Northwest, Chipotle restaurant was linked to an outbreak of Escherichia coli (also known as E. coli), which sickened 53 people, 20 of whom were hospitalized. Forty-six of those sickened had previously dined at a Chipotle restaurant. The chain responded by closing all 43 of its restaurants in Oregon and Washington in early November, during which time they sanitized the locations and searched for the source of the outbreak. That followed outbreaks of norovirus at Chipotle locations in Minnesota and southern California last summer.
Then, after Thanksgiving, a Chipotle restaurant in Boston was cited as the cause of food borne illness. The Boston Public Health Commission confirmed that 91 cases of norovirus were connected to the Brighton, Massachusetts restaurant. A large population of students from nearby Boston College were among those who fell ill, leading to posts like this on social media: “Boston College warns students to avoid #Chipotle after a ‘veritable epidemic’ sickens…”
Food safety is serious business to a restaurant; one infected employee can sicken hundreds of people and can result in closures, lawsuits and even criminal investigations—not to mention the damage it causes to a brand’s reputation, as Chipotle has learned. At the height of its popularity, Chipotle stock sold at $750 a share; it has dropped 40 percent since the outbreaks began.
Chipotle’s troubles are a cautionary tale for Dunkin’ Brands, which has never had a major food safety issue. Here is a look at lessons to be learned from other closures, and the factors contributing to Dunkin’s successful safety record.
Focus on Health and Hygiene
Vigilance about employee health and hygiene is critical to avoiding problems. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), norovirus – the culprit at one of Chipotle’s closures – is the leading cause of food related illness outbreaks. This gastrointestinal disease is spread when infected workers are handling food, particularly leafy green vegetables, fruits, or seafood. The CDC recommends people who have been sick stay away from food preparation for at least 48 hours after their symptoms stop.
Jessica Möller, Vice President of Retail Operations for Riverside Management Group, LLC, with twenty Dunkin’ Donuts franchise locations throughout Massachusetts, says that the importance of hand washing can’t be stressed enough.
“While it’s a business that emphasizes speed, we make sure all members understand that speed is never at the expense of food safety,” she says. “People naturally look for ways to take shortcuts, but we never want someone to try to save 30 seconds by not stopping to wash their hands.” Employee health is held to an extremely high standard at every Dunkin’ location, says Everett Gasbarro, senior director of Operating Systems at Dunkin' Brands.
“All franchisees review with their employees the Dunkin' Brands Employee Health and Hygiene Standards. They can review the Employee Health Placard, discuss the importance of not coming to work when sick, and refresh training on the brand standards for effective hand washing on a routine basis,” he says.
Gasbarro notes that the multiple outbreaks of 2015 serve to reinforce the importance of food safety at every restaurant, and throughout the industry.
“No business is immune to food safety incidents and we cannot emphasize enough the importance of protecting the guest, and the brand, with a robust food safety system,” he says. “Dunkin' Brands Food Safety System includes an integrated set of components that focuses on areas such as sanitation, time and temperature, good retails practices, and employee health. When not managed correctly, (these) are all contributing factors to a food borne illness outbreak.”
Dunkin’ Brands comprehensive food safety systems, standards and requirements are based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles, as well as government regulations, global industry best practices, and the brand’s own high standards. As defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, HACCP is a management system based on seven principles that manage every step of food storage and preparation. This includes the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from the point of raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product.
Members of Dunkin’s food safety system monitor each product throughout its life cycle. If a product fails to meet standards at any point, quality assurance will recall or withdraw it.
For franchise owners, the outbreak serves as a reminder to check and double check the systems in place. Möller says that the need to take a deeper look at everything – from systems, to equipment, to staff procedures – has been the topic of many recent meetings.
“We have excellent systems and equipment in place, but it served as a reminder to not just assume everything is running as it should be,” she says. “It’s important to spot check everything.”
The role of good documentation, both electronic and manual, has also been elevated in importance. “For example, if a refrigerator goes down, we have a short window of time to work with,” says Möller. “We need to know the exact minute it goes down. Everyone, from crew members on up, needs to understand the importance of procedures, such as documenting temperatures in log books, so that we can backtrack.”
Reliable Supply Chain
Another key to safeguarding food throughout the distribution process is a reliable supply chain. The National DCP has been an integral factor in ensuring food safety for more than 30 years.
Roland Ornelas, chief procurement officer at NDCP in Atlanta, credits a proactive relationship between NDCP and Dunkin’ Brands for the consistent cleanliness and safety of its food products.
“Dunkin’ approves all manufacturers, sets standards and guidelines, and is responsible for all QA,” he says. “As a distributor, NDCP is responsible for factors including maintaining temperature control, managing shelf life, ensuring that the product remains undamaged, and maintaining traceability back to the supplier.”
NDCP keeps rigid protocols in place to link back to each supplier, important should a question arise.
“If a franchisee comes to us with a problem, we’ll tell them to contact Dunkin’s hotline to log the problem,” explains Ornelas. “Dunkin’ will investigate and look for systemic issues and follow up with the supplier. They’ll let us know to either pull the lot, or release it.”
The DCP originated in 1983 as a membership cooperative created by Dunkin’ Donuts franchisees in the Northeast. In 2012, when DCP’s five regional entities merged into one national entity, NDCP secured a new contract with Dunkin’ Brands giving it responsibility for sourcing, purchasing, and distribution of business solutions regarding food, beverages, supplies, packaging, technology and healthcare.
National DCP’s focus on improving business processes, launching best practices, and cross-functional collaboration yielded a 22 percent increase in their perfect order service metric in 2014. As defined by the Warehouse Education and Research Council, the perfect order metric measures if the product is delivered complete, on time, damage free, and with the correct documentation.
In a business that strives to constantly satisfy customer trends and preferences, Dunkin’ Brands continually updates is menu offerings. This adds another layer of complexity to the process of food safety because new products require new standards and fresh updates to food prep procedures.
“The Dunkin' Brands Food Safety System continues to manage the full range of menu items that are offered,” Gasbarro says. “This includes ongoing education on new products and those areas where the food must be safely managed to provide wholesome quality products to the guest.”
Franchisees and their employees are able to access up-to-date training programs and support materials online via Dunkin' Brands’ Online University.
Beyond training programs, Möller says she’s a firm believer in leading by example to constantly stress the importance of adhering to procedures. In a business with many younger employees, this approach can be particularly effective.
“When I walk in a store, I emphasize how important each element is to me, from washing hands, to wearing the right gloves for handling trash,” she says.
She cites an example of ice handling. “I can hear the difference when someone is scooping ice with a cup, instead of the ice scoop. It may seem like a small thing, but ice is food, and if that cup is dirty, you’ve contaminated all that ice.
Whether it’s learning how to work with a new product, or keeping existing standards in place, relaying the right message is a constant process, says Möller. “It’s a culture across the board, that food safety is the most important.”
Earning and maintaining customer loyalty is crucial to success in today’s competitive marketplace. Maintaining a clean food safety record is a critical component. Dunkin’ continues to meet this challenge by learning from current events and constantly enforcing its extremely high standards.
With the recent national focus on food safety, DDIFO is now offering franchisees and their managers the opportunity to take nationally accredited food safety certification exams at DDIFO meetings, in collaboration with the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe® program.
The ServSafe® Food Protection Manager Certification Exam is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-Conference for Food Protection (CFP). ServSafe® training and certification is recognized by more federal, state and local jurisdictions than any other food safety certification.
ServSafe® is a Dunkin’ Brands approved vendor and has certified more than six million managers since issuing the first ServSafe® Certificate in 1972 under what was then known as Applied Foodservice Sanitation.
According to ServSafe®, “The program blends the latest FDA Food Code, food safety research and years of food sanitation training experience. Managers learn to implement essential food safety practices and create a culture of food safety. All content and materials are based on actual job tasks identified by foodservice industry experts.”
DDIFO Executive Director Ed Shanahan says offering the exams is now an added benefit for association members. Joan Gould, DDIFO’s business member coordinator, has been trained as a proctor and is available to help guide franchisees through the process.