food-safety | 7 mins read

How Food Safety Labels Can Help Improve Food Management at a Restaurant

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Sanchari Chatterjee

By Sanchari Chatterjee

What are Food Safety Labels?

It is of the utmost importance to know if the food you consume, or give your loved ones, is safe to eat. You'll want to make sure you're not harming yourself by putting something unhealthy into your system. You'll want to know about the shelf life of the food. Where can you find this information about a food product? On a food safety label.

A food safety label is the sticker you see on a food product, with information about its ingredients, manufacturing and expiry dates, nutritional value, allergy warnings, and so on. The Food Safety label is the most important means of communication between the food manufacturer/supplier and the consumer. Typically, a food safety label has over 200 pieces of information, including serving size, calories, cholesterol content, sodium content and more. It also contains guidelines on food storage. The food safety label can be a tag, a printed label, or a mark on a bottle carrying information the food producer wants to convey about the product.

Why are Food Labels Important in a Restaurant?

Food safety is a major cause for concern for public health authorities in the United States. One in six Americans get sick from food-related diseases each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also estimates that each year, 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die due to food-borne diseases. About $110 billion is spent to address these issues. In one infamous case, a woman had to be hospitalized after a restaurant employee confused milk with a bottle of chemicals and poured it into her tea.

  • While cleanliness and hygiene protocols are the primary means of ensuring Food Safety at a restaurant, the other is food labeling. Labels acts as guidelines for staff to follow when they pick up items for food prep and cooking.
  • When running a restaurant, you don't want your customers to fall ill after eating your food, for it will imperil your business. One way to avoid this is by having staff correctly label all food products with their common names, shelf life and quality, contents, and so on.
  • Food safety labels are also an empowering tool for consumers who can read the product labels and make informed choices about their purchases.
  • When a food item is taken out of its original packaging, it runs the risk of getting mixed up with other similar looking products. Labeling food helps with Inventory Optimization, reducing time and energy wasted in identifying products.

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What are Tamper-evident Labels and of What Use are They?

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You must have come across food labels that appear as seals on your packaged food product. Seals are tamper evident to alert you that the contents may have been tampered with if the seal is broken. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines tamper evident labels as seals "having one or more indicators or barriers to entry which, if breached or missing, can reasonably be expected to provide visible evidence to consumers that tampering has occurred".

Why are tamper evident labels important when labeling food? Say you have prepared dough in your restaurant kitchen and you leave it to proof. You don't want it to be tampered with for the next three days. How will you make sure none of your colleagues opens it by mistake? A tamper evident label is the answer. When you place one of these seals on the packaged dough, it warns others not to open the package. And if someone happens to open it anyway, the tamper evident label will alert you to the breach.

What Kind of Products in a Restaurant Kitchen Need Food Labels?

When working in a restaurant kitchen, you're surrounded by hundreds of food products.Some have an expiry date closing in. Others need to adhere to strict temperature storage and cooking rules as mandated by the HACCP Temperature Chart. Making this information boldly apparent on the container's food labels makes it easier for alerts to be noticed and followed. But a restaurant's inventory is massivewhich items should carry food labeling and which should go without?

  • Perishable food products that need to be used within a specific time frame definitely need food labels. These need to have use first labels or food labels with their "use before" date specified on them.
  • Similar-looking food products that have been taken out of their original packaging. Items such as salt and sugar, or vinegar and soda that can be confused with other kitchen products, need to be marked and labeled with their common names to avoid mishaps.
  • Food products that demand specific safety guidelines to be followed in a kitchen.
  • Items that should be part of a food rotation, or that need to be brought to the front of the stockpile as per their use-by date need such labels. Those that have a longer shelf life and can be kept at the back of the rack.

  • According to a study by the European Commission, about 10% of the total food waste in the EU is due to date-marking on food labels.
  • Confusion among consumers about 'use before' and 'best before' dates on a food product contributes to a great deal of food waste, says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
  • Geographical Indication (GI) labels on food products comprise an annual trade value of over $50 billion worldwide.

How to Use Food Labels in a Restaurant Kitchen?

Restaurants are always under pressure to provide the best quality food to their customers at a competitive price. But it's no easy task when it comes to preparing, cooking and serving food to customers under a deadline. Food Management can be tricky when juggling a busy restaurant kitchen that's constantly buzzing with activity. Food labels can, however, make the job easier.

  • There are different types of food labels you can choose from, according to your restaurant needs. From soluble labels to DIY ones, or store-bought food labels, there are many kinds available for use. So if you run a commercial kitchen with a multitude of storage, packaging and food safety needs, you may want to opt for pre-made labels you can fill up and paste on your food products or ingredients.
  • Then there are food rotation labels you can use to move food products around according to their dates of expiry and manufacturing.
  • When it comes to food labeling, always look to include necessary information first. After all, the space on these labels is limited. So go for the name, food prep date, shelf life or expiration date before jotting down other details.

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Food Safety Labeling Tips for QSRs

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In the United States, foodborne illnesses affect an estimated 48 million people every year. And Quick-Service Restaurants (QSRs), such McDonald's and Pizza Hut, are responsible for a large number of these illnesses. To reduce the risk of food safety violations, and to keep up with the growing demand for healthy food and beverages, QSRs need to understand how their customers perceive food safety standards.

  • Non-food grade items, such as masking tape or sticky tape and paper, are often used in restaurant kitchens for food labeling and marking. However, these are not ideal for food safety and hygiene. It is preferable to get pre-made food labels that follow the food safety guidelines, as prescribed by the FDA and public health authorities.
  • Handwritten food labels often end up confusing staff, as the handwriting may be illegible or the ink may get smudged during washing or handling.
  • Label inventory as and when it is received, so that food products with an earlier expiry date can be used first.
  • Immediately label food products when they are taken out of their original packaging.

Can Food Safety Labels Improve Inventory Management?

Organizing restaurant inventory with food labels improves the day-to-day efficiency of a business. It also takes care of food safety and hygiene. In addition, food labels help in Implementing Haccp (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point), which is a management system that analyzes the biological, chemical and physical hazards from raw material procurement, production and handling. This in turn enables the restaurant to comply with food safety regulations.

  • Even when you work with an automated inventory management system such as Zip Inventory, food labeling will help the staff move food products around with ease when they have their common names written prominently on labels.
  • Food labeling on each item in the food storage will indicate its shelf life. This will help the staff better manage the restaurant inventory and reduce wastage. It will also help management with Forecasting Inventory.
  • Food labels indicate the special properties of a product, highlighting for example if the milk is fat-free, or the bread is gluten-free. This helps the restaurant meet the customers' specific demands.

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