by Maureen Wilson
National Food Compliance Manager

January 2019

At Spotless, we understand that consumers need to know – and more importantly trust – that their suppliers are doing everything they can to ensure their wellbeing when it comes to food, which is why safety informs everything we do in our food-service operations.

“Safety forms a core part of our culture — and operations — for our catering brands, EPICURE and Alliance, supported by robust policies, programs and training initiatives,” says Maureen Wilson, Spotless’ National Food Compliance Manager. “We have developed a Food Safety Training Framework to ensure very specific training for all employees involved in food preparation and service: food handlers, venue and event food handlers, and food safety supervisor.”

In today’s era of foodies, meals also need to be fresh, affordable, ethical, made with local produce, always accessible and –  let’s not forget – in line with current global food trends. This means that food safety practices need to continually evolve to keep up with the innovative food preparation techniques that create the new food offerings appearing on our social media feeds every day.

To ensure that stringent food safety measures can follow the varied food offerings and trends at our different sites and meet any changes to food regulations, Spotless’ Food Safety Program can be fully customised to each individual site. “By completing a series of online questions,” explains Maureen, “the owner ensures all food safety hazards and specific food preparation and handling techniques have been identified. When a new process is required, the site-owner can simply update the Food Safety Program.”

With a geographical footprint of 265 food-service outlets (some of which have subsidiary retail food outlets associated with them, such as the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which has 127 outlets additional to the main site), we’ve gone to great lengths to ensure our food safety practices are rigorous and comprehensive, giving our customers confidence that they’re being served the safest, highest-quality food each and every day.

Food safety supervisors are present at every one of our food-serving sites, and they play a critical role in ensuring all our processes and procedures for safe food handling are followed. “That’s why our staff training is and needs to be continuous,” explains Maureen. “All staff receive accredited training before commencing employment, which is then refreshed every two years.”

Cornerstone to the food safety strategy, is sound comprehension and knowledge of the risks associated with food service, taking into consideration shelf life, critical limits for cooking and reheating, food allergens and other intrinsic risk factors. Spotless’ online Food Safety Program management system staff to share information and access a comprehensive library of documents. “The Food Safety Program is really the lynchpin of Spotless’ food safety strategy,” says Maureen. “It’s designed to help staff understand legislative and compliance requirements — as well as national food safety standards — and put it into the context of everyday handling of food. In addition, it allows us to share the expertise and experience that we have across the whole organisation.”

The Food Safety Program also pushes out alerts whenever a risk is identified, allowing sites to act quickly in order to mitigate or avoid problems. “If a safety-related concern is perceived, our food safety team issues notifications to the front line operations to let them know about the problem and what they need to do,” says Maureen. “The ability to roll out instant updates has created a working culture where sites feel at ease, knowing they can directly contact the food safety team to ask questions or request advice.”

While preventative measures ensure in-house food safety incidents are rare, food safety emergencies beyond our control, such as nation-wide product recalls, still require a timely and coordinated response. “When the recent strawberry contamination occurred, it was a rapidly developing issue and we made sure to get on the front foot,” explains Maureen. “We have 425 unique food suppliers, and our procurement team quickly contacted all of our strawberry providers to make sure none of the implicated brands had entered our supply chain. In the interest of consumer confidence, we decided early-on to withdraw strawberries from all 265 food sites, and only recommenced normal service of strawberries after receiving the all-clear from regulators, some two weeks after the saga began. If we are uncertain for any reason, then it’s just not worth the risk – and that’s our basic philosophy.”

Food safety and quality is paramount to the reputation of a food-service business, and while upholding stringent food safety practices calls for constant collaboration and joint efforts with everyone involved in the supply chain, there are several invaluable advantages. “Beyond customer loyalty, there are many additional benefits to having a strong food safety management system, including reducing financial costs, promoting teamwork and efficiency and attracting partnerships with other brands,” says Maureen. “Ultimately, our goal is to provide quality products and services that always meet our customers’ requirements and expectations, and our fail-safe food safety management system is central to meeting this goal, while helping our business thrive and grow.”