U.S – The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has named John Zimmermann, Vice President of Quality Assurance and Food Safety at First Watch Restaurants, as the 2021 Outstanding Food Safety Leader.

The award recognizes an individual’s dedication to food safety through personal and career accomplishments such as improving food safety systems or processes, introducing innovations to manage food supplies or foodservice operations, or mentoring other foodservice professionals. This year, the award also acknowledges the extraordinary efforts of food safety leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Restaurant Association is a restaurant industry business association in the United States, supporting over 500,000 restaurant businesses. It is the largest foodservice trade association in the world.

The Association honored Zimmermann during its Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) Expert Exchange digital event. The annual award is sponsored by Ecolab, the global leader in water, hygiene and infection prevention solutions.

“Food safety is a critical hallmark of the restaurant industry and over the last 18 months, FSQA professionals and leaders have stepped up to proactively keep their employees and customers safe. But this award isn’t just about how they’ve responded to the pandemic, it’s about the hard work, dedication, and integrity these individuals put into protecting people and jobs that make up the restaurant industry each day.”

Jeffrey Clark, Expert Exchange director, National Restaurant Association


Zimmermann has more than 30 years of experience in quality assurance and food safety that spans food processing, distribution, and the foodservice industry, as stated by Food Safety Equipment & Supplies. At First Watch, he is responsible for establishing standards and developing, implementing, and leading programs that directly impact food safety, quality, customer satisfaction, and innovation to ensure that only high-quality and safe food is served to all First Watch customers.

“We all have an important role to play when it comes to food safety. The opportunity to put competition aside and collaborate with industry peers to benchmark or share best practices, particularly when faced with a global health crisis this past year, has helped ensure consumer trust for all those we serve.”

John Zimmermann, Vice President, FSQA, First Watch Restaurants


The veteran introduced new cleaning program enhancements, including research on effective, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved products and new cleaning procedures for high-touch technology, worked to improve ventilation systems, and helped navigate supply-chain disruption issues by approving secondary-source suppliers and product substitutions, as well as transitioning to a new distributor.

In addition, Zimmermann assisted in the launch of a 3rd-party delivery service safety protocol that featured requirements for packaging and tamper-evident standards, safe alcohol-to-go procedures, and ready-to-eat retail products.

First Watch is an award-winning Daytime Dining restaurant concept serving made-to-order breakfast, brunch and lunch using fresh ingredients. First Watch offers traditional favorites, such as pancakes, omelets, sandwiches and salads, alongside specialty items like the Quinoa Power Bowl, Avocado Toast and the Chickichanga.

There are more than 420 First Watch restaurants in 28 states, and the restaurant concept is majority owned by Advent International, one of the world’s largest private-equity firms. First Watch is also the owner of Bread & Company, a bakery and cafe located in Nashville, Tennessee.

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