UK – National Sanitation Foundation International (NSF International), a leading global public health and safety organization, has in a study on the state of quick service restaurant (QSR) operations around the world, revealed Covid-19 regulatory requirements, the rise of delivery services and equipment malfunctions as some of the areas of concern.

The study identified the challenges directly impacting food safety standards, with one in five franchise managers and employees believing food safety has been at severe risk on their site in recent weeks.

Other areas of concern included lack of training and staff turnover.

“This is a pivotal moment for QSR brands. We know that many of the trends and corresponding challenges brought about by the pandemic will stay, so restaurant owners and managers need to adapt to survive – and to do so safely,” said Wouter Conradie, Supply Chain Food Safety Director, Europe and Africa, NSF International.

The study looked at QSR operations in five major markets including the US, UK, China, India and Latin America with findings being consistent in restaurants in each market.

According to Wouter, new regulations and procedures, staff training and retention, and the need to accommodate rapid delivery and takeout orders have all taken a toll on the ability to keep operations running smoothly, and this is seen in South Africa as it is around the world.

NSF International notes that QSR operations are a constant balancing act between quality, customer-centricity, and food safety, all the while under pressure to maximize efficiency and speed.

It argues that the events of the past 24 months have upset this balance. As a result of the pandemic, the majority of QSR franchises and employees (67%) raise concerns over the new regulatory requirements.

Rise in home delivery, equipment breakdown increase  food risk

As per the study, one in 5 (22%) QSR managers said home delivery has increased food risks due to added pressure on employees. 38% and 34% of survey respondents noted that increased customer demands over the speed of delivery and keeping food at the right temperature were the biggest difficulties, respectively.

Alongside the increased work pressure, QSR brands are concerned about ensuring that third-party logistics partners have adequate food safety training, clean and suitable vehicles, and appropriate food boxes to ensure standards are upheld across the purchasing chain. 

NSF International points out that the fast-paced, high-pressure nature of QSR work makes equipment breakdowns prevalent – and deeply disruptive – putting both consumer and employee safety at risk.

Nearly a third (27 percent) of QSR operations simply switch off machinery due to a lack of time or expertise to troubleshoot the problem, with 31 percent temporarily discontinuing a menu item because of non-functioning equipment. 

One in 10 QSR managers and employees also admit to skipping automatic cleaning cycles or ignoring error messages on equipment.

“For so many of QSR workers to be actively ignoring cleaning protocols puts food safety at a huge risk. Food safety standards should be held in the highest regard – it is the factor that has the potential to make or break a QSR establishment, above all others”, said Rowley.

Staff turnover an issue

The survey also revealed that two thirds (67%) of QSR managers have found staff turnover to be an issue for their business, with 13% believing it to be the biggest negative impact on operations.

Covid-19 has only heightened the issue, with 38% of respondents saying finding and keeping staff is a huge challenge following the pandemic. 

Already a key aspect of operations for any QSR brand, training has become even more critical as Covid-19 increased staff turnover and necessitated new regulations and procedures. Of the QSR respondents interviewed, 73% said the pandemic has increased their training needs.

However, NSI International points out that the pandemic has also made the process more challenging, with more than half of QSR managers stating that they had to cancel or delay employee training due to Covid-19.

The lack of immediately-available training, coupled with inconsistent quality of courses has a clear, real-world impact on food safety, highlights the report.

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