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What Will the Rise of Virtual Restaurants Mean for Food Safety?

12/2/2019

Take out menus may soon be relics of restaurants past, as more diners turn to virtual restaurants – eateries that exist only online or via an app. Supported by digital technology, the rise of these businesses, also called ghost and cloud restaurants, signals a shift in consumer culture. As more hungry consumers forgo the dine-in experience and log onto mobile apps to get their meals, what does it all mean for industry safety?

A new report by the National Restaurant Association, an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) organizational member, details how the definition of a restaurant is changing. Among the top disruptor trends to watch for by the year 2030, virtual restaurants and cloud kitchens are gaining business traction thanks to accelerating trends in technology and consumer demand. "Growth will be fueled by the expansion of central kitchens for food prep, and social media marketing that showcases menus, philosophies and chefs," the report explains. This also indicates that with the rise of "placeless" restaurants, new chains could quickly emerge regionally or nationally.

The speed and efficiency of technology plays a role in the success of virtual businesses—with digital retail also on the rise, for example. In the restaurant industry, digital orders, which represent 5% of restaurant orders, are growing by 20% each year. The potential for technology in the restaurant business is also growing, as artificial intelligence and machine learning can improve the efficiency of ghost restaurants, as they can provide "accurate data for sourcing and running the ghost kitchens," the Associated Press reports. Block-chain technology, which can help track food from farm to table as it travels through the supply chain, will also support efficiency and safety of meals before they hit the dinner table.

With consumers' growing appetite for on-demand food, the National Restaurant Association also reports that food safety will continue to be a "mission-critical" area for most restaurants. "Food-safety certification and comprehensive food safety management systems will be critical components of enhancing food safety," the report notes.

How Standards and Accreditation Play a Role in Food Safety

The ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB), a wholly-owned subsidiary of ANSI, accredits credentialing bodies in the food-handling area to assure safety.

The ANAB-CFP Accreditation Program is a certification accreditation program for food protection managers based on the Conference for Food Protection (CFP) standard, and was implemented on June 17, 2002. The structure of the Conference for Food Protection, which originated in 1971, provides a representative and equitable partnership among regulators, industry, academia, professional organizations, and consumers to identify problems, formulate recommendations, and develop and implement practices that ensure food safety.

ANAB also accredits organizations providing food with handler training courses and certificates. This is integral as some states, including Arizona, California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas, and West Virginia and local jurisdictions require that food handlers have a certificate from an ANAB-accredited organization. Read more about ANAB and food safety .

ANAB is a recognized accreditation body under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FSMA-recognized accreditation bodies – like ANAB – assess the competence of food safety inspection organizations according to the international standards ISO/IEC 17065 and ISO/IEC 17021-1. The goal is to create a food safety system that focuses on preventing contamination rather than reacting to problems that have already occurred.

ANAB offers accreditation for product certification bodies for a number of programs based on ISO/IEC 17065, including:

  • The Food Marketing Institute’s Safe Quality Food Initiative certification program, promoting consumer confidence in the integrity of the food supply chain.

  • The British Retail Consortium standard specifying food safety and quality criteria required to be in place within a manufacturer’s organization to supply product to retailers and other users.

  • The GlobalGAP standard, primarily designed to reassure consumers about how food is produced on the farm by minimizing detrimental environmental impacts of farming operations, reducing the use of chemical toxicants, and ensuring a responsible approach to animal welfare.

  • PrimusGFS, an audit scheme covering both good agricultural practices (GAP) and good manufacturing practices (GMP) scopes, as well as food safety management systems.

  • The International Featured Standards food safety scheme, the mission of which is to provide assurance that food is safe by allow the assessment of supplier's food safety and quality systems in accordance with a uniform approach.

  • CanadaGAP™ offers certification to companies that produce and handle fruits and vegetables and is designed to help implement and maintain effective food safety procedures within fresh produce operations.

  • The Global Aquaculture Alliance develops aquaculture standards and encourages the use of responsible aquaculture practices.

Management systems certification bodies can gain ANAB accreditation based on ISO/IEC 17021-1 to offer certification for ISO 22000, which specifies requirements for a food safety management system that combines interactive communication, system management, prerequisite program, and HACCP principles to ensure food safety along the food chain. ANAB also offers accreditation for FSSC 22000, a Global Food Safety Initiative-benchmarked food safety management systems certification scheme.

Accreditation and certification are part of the big picture equation for food safety, but standards are also a critical component. For restaurants in operation, the standard from the International Organization for Standardization, ISO 6887-2:2017, Microbiology of the food chain – Preparation of test samples, initial suspension and decimal dilutions for microbiological examination – Part 2: Specific rules for the preparation of meat and meat products, details rules specific to the preparation of meat. Another standard, ANSI Z83.21-2016/CSA C22.2 No. 168-2016, Commercial dishwashers, is the common CSA Group and UL standard for commercial dishwashers, and covers commercial, freestanding, under-counter, and counter-insert dishwashers, as well as utensil-washers and glass washers, intended for use in commercial establishments and not accessible to the public. It was developed by the CSA Group, an ANSI member and accredited standard developer, and UL, ANSI member and audited designator.

Other recent reports also suggest that drones may also play a larger role in deliveries as online food delivery services take flight. ANSI supports the safety of drones through its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Standardization Collaborative (UASSC). The UASSC’s mission is to coordinate and accelerate the development of the standards and conformity assessment programs needed to facilitate the safe integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, into the national airspace system.

See more restaurant standards on ANSI.org and view the National Retail Association report.

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As the voice of the U.S. standards and conformity assessment system, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) empowers its members and constituents to strengthen the U.S. marketplace position in the global economy while helping to assure the safety and health of consumers and the protection of the environment.

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