(May 21) CALGARY, Alberta — Food safety, staffing considerations and locally grown produce dominated the discussion at the May 16 foodservice symposium during the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s convention and exposition.

Carl Svangtun, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Sun Rich Fresh Foods Inc., Richmond, British Columbia, moderated the event.

FOOD SAFETY

Operators can expect increased focus on food safety from the public and government, said Claudia Owens, director of purchasing for Earls Restaurants, Vancouver, British Columbia.

She advised foodservice operations look for growers that use good agricultural practices and processors that test water for E. coli.

Owens said Earls uses its online Earls University to show employees about food safety.

Working with health officials can alert restaurants to potential problems, panelist Craig Davies, director of purchasing for the casual steakhouse chain Keg Restaurants, Vancouver.

“The health inspector can be your best ally,” he said.

Davies suggested using suppliers who supply large accounts that will have their own safety regimens in place as a way to add assurance product is sourced from a well-maintained, well-operated facility.

“Use suppliers who others visit weekly,” he said.

Davies mentioned the importance of considering the front-end staff in the food safety chain, urging hand washing and use of hand sanitizer to fight the spread of germs.

In the event of a product recall, assume the worst, Davies said, and take the product off the menu.

“You can always back off,” he said, adding that having a written recall protocol set up is vital to policing product safety.

STAFFING ISSUES

Panelist Mark Klaudt, owner of Route 40 Soup Co., Turner Valley, said competing for workers is fierce in Alberta, where high-paying jobs in the oil industry make attracting and retaining workers a challenge.

In addition to competitive wages, meeting employee needs through keeping in mind their lifestyles and career goals must be considered.

Panelists cited keeping in touch with workers via the Internet as part of an effective communications strategy.

At Keg, facebook.com is used to allow staffers to check scheduling and trade shifts, Davies said.

Restaurant often employ a young staff, and reaching today’s computer-savvy young adults requires adapting to new technology and methods of communication to engender skills.

“Just handing them the manual doesn’t work,” Davies said.

LOCAL FOCUS

Klaudt said he searched farmers markets for produce to use at Route 40 Soup Co., where the offerings include quart jars of soups to go, catering and providing soup for sale at the Millarville Farmers Market.

Earls also makes efforts to align with local growers, Owens said.

Earls — with 50 casual-dining restaurants throughout western Canada, Arizona and Colorado —also is into organic, though because of Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulations the menu doesn’t play it up, Owens said.

She named spring mix and fresh herbs among the organic produce the chain employs.