Food Safety: Chain Reactions

When DSRs help their operator customers stay up-to-date with the fast-changing food safety scene, they set off a chain of events that ultimately benefits everyone involved.

Nowhere is the evolving nature of the DSR more evident than in its multi-faceted role of consultant, educator, business partner and visionary in helping operators keep up with the cutting edge of food safety. Fulfilling this role takes time and effort, but builds loyalty by helping safeguard customers’ businesses, and most importantly protecting consumers’ health.

For dealers, it can also lead to replacement sales from current customers — and there is nothing wrong with that.

Putting the latest information at customers’ disposal “absolutely” helps move replacement equipment, says Brett Livingstone, a DSR with Myers Restaurant Supply in Santa Rosa, Calif. Though replacement sales usually involve items like cutting boards, they do go beyond that. “Occasionally, a situation arises where the health department is red-tagging people and telling them to replace larger pieces,” Livingstone says.

Refrigeration is proving to be a significant area of focus for a Myers’ multi-unit casual-dining chain customer. “Some of their refrigeration units are seven, eight or even nine years old and pre-date NSF-7,” Livingstone says. “So they may not hold temps to the standards that are now in place. We are replacing rails on the refrigerated lines, too.”

Of course smaller items often make up the bulk of food safety-related replacement sales. “You can get replacement sales by stressing food safety because the products that get lots of use are all worn,” notes Ralph Russo of Singer Equipment Co. in Philadelphia. “Take cutting boards, for example, especially the ones on a steam table or a bain marie. When they’re cut into so badly you can’t clean the grooves, well, that is a chance for you to sell another product that operators know they need. We also sell all the chemicals that help them kill the bacteria and germs.”

Making an operator aware that they may have some food safety concerns typically does not lead to an immediate sale but can pay dividends down the road. They are not going to replace a piece of equipment that’s working for them with something new just because they are not compliant unless a visit from the local health department is imminent, says Jeremy Paule, a DSR with Curtis Restaurant Equipment in Springfield, Ore. “But making them aware of it definitely fashions their responses. When they do need that new piece, they’ll make sure it is compliant.”

Guiding customers toward a greater appreciation of, and more expertise in, matters relating to compliance with proper food safety practices is something the best dealers are already hard at work on in a variety of ways.

Consulting and Audits

Some dealers offer to act almost as food safety consultants, touring facilities and assessing their needs. “We can go in and check the loading dock for shipments coming in, or look at products being cooked,” says Ron Apple, an Atlanta-based DSR with Edward Don & Co. “I could do it for a customer if they wanted. We’ll do those kinds of things for those who buy from us.” Such a service “may even open up the door for a potential customer,” he adds.

Curtis’ Paule carries an infrared thermometer with him when he calls on accounts. “I might temp a couple of things on the rail, maybe even surreptitiously, without them knowing,” he says. “NSF-7, of course, calls for operators to store food at 41 °F. If I’m finding anything more than 45 °F. I’m quick to mention that not only are they not in compliance but they’re also endangering their clientele, and their business. Some of them are not even aware that the new requirement is 41 °F.”

Providing samples of new food safety-related products also helps. Curtis carries one line of decomposable storage rotation labels made of cornstarch that dissolve in the warewasher, Paule says. “The manufacturer has been more than willing to send out samples of those,” he says. “So I distribute them as I go out to visit with my customers, especially if I notice they’re using masking tape or grease markers or things like that.”

Of course with the expanding roles dealers are taking on, food safety concerns come into play beyond basic E&S distribution. “When we’re doing facility designs, we try and incorporate hand sinks in as many places as we feel the local health department will require,” says Russo. “In those areas we try to make certain they’re equipped with soap and a paper towel dispenser because we want the employees constantly reminded that they have to get to those places to wash their hands.” Russo also routinely talks to operators about keeping a variety of cutting boards and hand- and nail-brushes at the different stations.

Each member of the Singer sales force is ServSafe-certified, Russo points out. “Our guys have gone through training, taken and passed the test and all have the certification. They’re all able to give educated answers to people and guide them. They can say, ‘Hey, we need to put a hand sink over here because your guys are walking too far and we don’t want the board of health guy to cite you.’”

Many customers, Russo notes, ask him and his colleagues what they need in their dishrooms. “When I lay out a dishroom, we know we have to have a three-compartment sink. We have to have a vegetable sink. In certain city areas where you have a garbage disposal you have to have a hand sink in that area. Then in the prep area you need another sink for the prepping person. We may have to incorporate another hand sink next to the cooking line just for them. They don’t really understand that this is all done for the consumers’ safety.”

Though another expense in their budgets, the necessity quickly becomes apparent. “I encourage customers to look at their guidelines,” Russo says. “If the municipality is willing to give them a variance and say they don’t need to have a three-compartment sink, I will abide by that. But they had better get it in writing. Our goal is to make it so that when you open your doors and that health inspector walks in they say your place looks great and hand you the certificate so you don’t have to see them for another six months.”

Russo, who also teaches classes in food safety, design and purchasing at local colleges and schools, points out that operators also benefit from the DSR’s experience by learning lessons culled from real life. “I set examples for them so they can learn from others,” Russo says.

Sharing Information

“When opening a new restaurant, I usually ask the owner if they have visited the township or municipality to pick up their guidelines,” Russo says. “If so, I ask if they know what this muni-cipality is asking them to have? Many have never gone to get it.”

Paule, in conjunction with a manufacturer, hands out a HACCP flier that highlights food safety measures from the receiving dock through preparation.

Edward Don gives clients proprietary brochures and pamphlets to familiarize them with HACCP principles and related information ranging from cooking and holding temperatures to the use of equipment to color-coded cutting boards and knives. “We’re using brochures for a lot of cold calls and to tell prospective customers what’s out there,” says Apple. “They’re saying that one incident involving foodborne illness can cost an operator $75,000.

“A lot of people just aren’t familiar with HACCP,” Apple adds. “Obviously, we want to help our customers avoid any kinds of problems and it helps us make a sale, too.”

While he can’t point to a specific instance when a customer cited this information as the reason for a purchase, Apple believes such practices almost certainly lead to sales of replacement equipment. “Normally it’s in the smallwares area, and thermometers,” he says. “We’ve even come out now with tongs that have colors on them — along with knives and cutting boards — with charts to show which items to use with which products.”

Myers’ Livingstone became a certified ServSafe trainer approximately three years ago and trains those employees that come into contact with customers. “Of course we have all our inside and outside salespeople certified, but we went as far as to certify our CAD operators, designers, delivery and install crews, even the person who does our quotations. I display their plaques upfront,” he says.

The goal — to make each of them a point of information for food safety — has been accomplished. “I’ve overheard my quotation person talking to a customer about food safety and saying, ‘Well, you might want to think about this for X and Y reason,’” Livingstone recalls.

Food safety education is ongoing at Myers, Livingstone reports. One of the more unique staff programs is a regular Thursday morning product knowledge meeting in the store. “But it’s not 'bring a rep in to produce the product knowledge’ kind of meeting,” he notes. “It will be one of our employees. It’s scheduled out months in advance, and they will pick some topic — blenders, food safety, refrigeration, whatever the case — and present it to the rest of our crew. They’ve got to educate themselves on it, and in turn educate their peers. At least half of those topics pertain to food safety in some fashion.”

During the months ahead, Myers will likely begin offering the NRA’s ServSafe course to its customers. “We’ve already started putting feelers out for that,” says Livingstone. “We can do it either at a bargain rate or in some way connected to a purchase ... I think that if we advertise it we can probably get them a little more interested,” he adds.

Merchandising

Arranging a showroom in such a way as to stress food safety products and issues is one more way of getting the message across to operators.

“We do a few different things,” says Livingstone. “The simplest one is to maintain a food safety display area in our store. We locate it right by our register, so it’s a natural conversation point. As people are ringing up they can look it over and invariably we start talking about it at that point.”

The two-sided, four-foot display holds the full gamut of food safety-related items — thermometers, cutting boards, ice caddies, cut-resistant gloves, knives with HACCP-colored handles, cleaning buckets, ice scoops, emergency kits and more.

In the decade ahead, says Russo, the fruits of today’s educational efforts will pay off handsomely. “I have to think we’re pretty much pushing the envelope now on how much we want them to follow the rules and things like having the signage out there for their employees to read in whatever language they need to have it. It’s telling them that the hand sink is your friend, and that the reason we have it here is because if you drop that knife on the floor you need to pick it up and wash your hands.”

In fact, Singer and other dealers have educated operators so well, Russo adds, “that in the next five years it’s going to be second nature to them, like the backs of their hands. 'We need this here. We need to do this. I know there has to be a sink here.’”

Small or large, the steps dealers take to help operators protect their customers and their businesses are of major import even if they seem minor. People will notice.

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