Don’t Play Russian Roulette with your Business

Do your due diligence and create Standard Operating Procedures. In order for a foodservice operation to run smoothly and deliver excellence on a consistent basis, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) are an integral part of the business. No matter whether you’re a corporate chain or an independent owner/operator, it behooves you to take a moment to think about your SOPs and SSOPs. You have them, of course, don’t you? Or are they only in your head and it takes a visit to “Total Recall” in order to pluck them from your brain? Are they written policies or are they handed down verbally from person to person? Or will it take a lawsuit in order for you to address your policies and procedures?

SOPs and SSOPs protect your business in case something goes wrong. Written policies and procedures provide consistency and a way to trace back where something went awry in the case of a critical incident. Just like a chef follows a recipe to ensure the uniformity and quality of food delivery time after time, SOPs provide a recipe for the staff to follow, too. While you may think that you’ve verbally communicated everything important to your staff to avoid issues and problems in the future, chances are that not everyone knows everything that needs to be done. That is why SOPs and SSOPs need to be in writing. Documentation is critical for success.

Take the childhood game of telephone. The first person thinks of what to say and passes the message on to the next person. By the time the message has been relayed from person to person and it reaches the last person, the end message tends to become jumbled and doesn’t resemble the original thought. Add into the mix age or cultural differences and it becomes a recipe for disaster.

For example, how do you handle the delivery of hot food to a child? Do your servers drop the food off in front of the child and hope for the best? Or do you have a procedure in place for the servers to follow in this instance? Proper procedure dictates that the server should put the food in front of the parent or adult at the table and give a verbal warning that the food is hot. That way, the foodservice operation limits its liability by allowing the adult to dole out the food to the child and thus avoid a potential lawsuit if the child gets burned.

The benefits to have written SOPs and SSOPs far outweigh the time it takes to initially establish them and to keep them updated. Not only does it provide a map for staff to follow in regard to their job duties, it also promotes quality and safety. Having written procedures provides protection in the event of a lawsuit. Policies minimize miscommunication and variations between staff. By having SOPs and SSOPs posted where employees can view them, it allows them the opportunity to refer back to them in case an individual is unsure of a procedure. It reinforces what was taught in the initial training and helps them to remember more.

Every operation has its own set of rules that must be followed. In the case of a temporary worker coming in to cover a shift, having written SOPs and SSOPs minimizes errors and lets them know what your standards are. It doesn’t help if only some of the procedures are documented. All SOPs and SSOPs need to be in writing. This is extremely important in the handling of the three biggest health issues that any operation faces: allergies, blood born pathogens and vomit. Does your staff know EXACTLY what to do in case they’re confronted with any of these three issues? If not it could cause huge problems not only with your customers but also with the health department and the legal community.

By now you should understand how critical it is to have policies and procedures in place. Remember that it’s not enough to just have the SOPs and SSOPs documented in writing. It is imperative that you monitor compliance on a routine basis. It also requires timely updates, yearly should be sufficient. Once your policies and procedures have been established, it is important to keep your staff informed of any changes or updates as they occur. Pre-shift meetings are the perfect opportunity to review any health and safety issues that arise. Email me at jeffnelken@cs.com with any food safety questions or a topic you’d like me to write about. Or please post your comments below.