Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Issue 2 of getting a job at KFC.

Hello world. It's been a while and now I'm back to deliver another passionate missive about the food industry as well as a thing or two about the restaurant industry.

I have no theme today, so it will be a hodgepodge of short topics. Be sure to comment if you have one and please spread the word. I know that some of you have read every post but just think of how many that haven't read one.

Visited the Boston Market at 9430 Fields Ertel Rd in Mason, OH yesterday. As a long time KFC employee, I'm disappointed to say that they not only have their act together, but they are running a better restaurant than KFC. This couldn't have been better evidenced than the $1 meal online coupon promotion they have out thru the 2nd of November. Lines formed to the door and nobody panicked...they were ready. Their hotwells were filled with hot food that looked appetizing and not all mashed to hell. Behind the employees were whole chickens roasting slowly in a series of rotisserie ovens. One cashier took every order, one person scooped sides, and one person added chicken and finished out the order. The manager kept the birds flying out of the oven and I'm sure there was one more prep person out of site, working the side dish prep in the back. It was fast, it was efficient, it was delicious. You have the choice of a quarter white meat chicken or 3 pieces of dark, one side, and cornbread.

This online coupon was a response to KFC's do-over of the failed Oprah Coupon several months back. The redo was less spectacular. This time you got one free piece of grilled chicken, which I later heard was a choice of either a leg or wing. A wing, really? Aren't you trying to win over some business, KFC? I'm sure there were some product outages all across the nation.

KFC has strayed a little bit from the things that made us such a strong growing chain in the late 90's - early 2000's. It should be all about the chicken, first of all. Focus on getting the basics right. That means more rounds of smaller batches being cooked. It means focusing on Original, Extra Crispy, Grilled, and Crispy Strips. I would cut out the new Original Strips as well as Popcorn chicken. Original Strips are a great idea, but carry over too much flavor of the trans fat free fry oil, which breaks down faster than hydrogenated shortening. So those strip will pick up the slightest bitter compunds released as the oil ages. Popcorn is popular but very labor intensive. It doesn't hold well, it fries too fast so the cook has to stop what he/she is doing and babysit it while it cooks, and it uses a lot of flour. The sides would be limited to Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Green Beans, BBQ Baked Beans, Mac n' Cheese, and Cole Slaw. Bread choices would remain as biscuits and cornbread muffins. I would also lower prices and structure the labor so that the manager is free to...manage and not be a highly paid worker. The manager needs to be free to hop station to station to help out in quick spurts, monitor quality, and check food safety. Locations with management that does this will have lower food costs and lower waste. You also empower your employees by not bailing them out every time they seem to be lagging behind.

If KFC wants anymore ideas, they can email me with a job offer and salary.

Speaking of job offers, I am still trying to get my meat hooks on a great food industry career position. One of the reasons I started this blog was to stay sharp and current with the industry. I have a degree in this field and I can do anything from R&D to Management to Sales. I know that it can take time to find the right position but I will be out of college for 2 years this December. So if any of you industry leaders that quietly read this blog need anyone good...don't pass me up.

The job ads are as frustrating as the silence that follows my application. I saw one looking for a 3rd shift production supervisor in a remote part of the state. In the requirements, they ask for 5 years of manufacturing experience. Here is how my brain works: why would someone with 5 years of experience still be on 3rd shift? Aren't you immediately disregarding fresh talent while attracting candidates for supervisor that couldn't get promoted past 3rd shift? Food companies do this all the time in job ads. I saw one for sales and they wanted 10 years of experience and a working relationship with several grocers. Are you dead serious? If I'm being interviewed for a sales job and they ask where I see myself in just 5 years, the answer sure as hell isn't going to be, 'right here in the same position'.

Part of this problem stems from a lack of a formal training program. The large entities with such a program skim graduates with 3.0 GPA's and higher. My GPA was lower, but it had nothing to do with my area of expertise. It had everything to do with what we call, 'General Education Credits'. I had a few of those classes I had to repeat, which crucified my GPA. In food science classes that pertained to my degree it was nearly all A's and B's. Unfortunately, my resume won't even get considered by many companies because of GPA.

In the last couple months, I had a president of a food company personally refer me to someone in their HR dept for a management position that he believed needed to be filled and I was also referred by a sales exec for his food company that needed to replace an outgoing sales position and got paid for his referrals. I have heard back from neither.

I have finally gotten around to checking out Ohio's Issue 2. I didn't judge, because I hadn't done any research into it. I just pulled up some info from both sides and read. The pro side of the argument advocated for livestock raising standards, traceability programs, and the general well being of our protein supply. The against side claimed a hijacking of Ohio's constitution by big business and included several food hysteric's buzzwords such as, 'Sustainability' and 'Organic' and 'Factory Farms'.

I followed the hyperbole and deducted that the food hysterics have grown even more paranoid.

The truth:
Both sides want standards set in the raising of livestock. There are some bad seeds out there that give real herdsman a bad name. Whether it's hogs, steer, dairy cattle, or sheep, 99% plus of them care for their animals and their general well being.

The HSUS are not advocates, but rather, activists. Big difference. As activists they have an emotional attachment to the animals but lack the experience and education to make decisions on their behalf. The standards you would get from the HSUS side would go beyond overkill. Many animals are social and stick close together, while HSUS standards may result in in requiring more acreage per head than the animal will ever freely use.

If issue 2 is voted down then something may or may not happen. HSUS will try to get the regulation they, as activists, feel is necessary passed into law. If they don't succeed then things will stay the same except for any programs that the producers may put through to raise standards for animal care. If HSUS is successful in passing their own legislation, you could see a mass exodus of agriculture into neighboring states where it can be more profitable.

If Issues 2 passes, will we see a massive de-regulation of agribusiness? No. It's in the farmers best interest to keep standards at a level that keeps those bad seeds in check and presents a socially responsible attitude to the consumers. I think I'll vote Yes on Issue 2, and so should you.

If you like what you read or think other will, please pass the link to this blog along in emails, facebook status', and Tweets. Thanks.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Center for Misleading Lists in the Public Food Hysteria.

About 40 years ago, a couple things happened. First, people were convinced that end times were near as people were predicting major food shortages and famine. Second, people were becoming concerned with the environment.

Both things weren't at all baseless. India had a booming population as was Africa's. It was the work of Norman Borlaug and the green revolution that saved the day, and an estimated 1 - 2 billion people. Since the industrial revolution just 70 years prior, smog and industrial pollutants were also a genuine concern.

About this time, many watchdog groups were formed, as was the EPA. While the intent of most of these groups was to curb environmental abuses and encourage responsible regulation, most have now become institutions full of people that must justify their own existence. It was a perfect storm of junk science, political power, and a generally undereducated public that lead to groups such as The Center for Science in the Public Interest to take hold and grow.

In car sales, there is a saying; 'The person that talks the most, wins'. This could be their strategy as well.

'You don't know about this? Well, let me tell you all about it.'

By the time they are done pumping you full of 'information', they have one more voice in a grossly misinformed game of telephone.

'We don't know enough about irradiated meat, more studies are needed.'
'Did you hear about the studies done on irradiated meat?'
'Studies show irradiated meat to be bad.'
'Everyone knows that irradiated meat is bad.'

They make lists that I hate using very narrow criteria or flawed logic. They condemn certain foods that are high in calories as being bad for you, yet they never list the vitamin and mineral content or protein, just calories and sodium. Of course, nobody is going to publicly say that more calories and more sodium are good for you, so they get a pass. It takes too long to explain that calories and sodium aren't intrinsically bad or good. Both things are necessary, too much can lead to long term health issues, and one or two meals a week that are high in either aren't going to kill you. What looks better on Yahoo's front page? Of course, we now get flooded with these web stories of the worst foods, all based on calories alone. It's nonsense.

Here is
The Center for Science in the Public Interest's latest list, based on food illness:
The 10 most dangerous foods.
1. Leafy Greens
2. Eggs
3. Tuna
4. Oysters
5. Potatoes
6. Cheese
7. Ice Cream
8. Tomatoes
9. Sprouts
10. Berries

These numbers are based on CDC reporting data from people believed to have been victims of food poisoning. There are several problems here that you'll hear nobody else address.

1. The data.
Did they only pull CDC's numbers that were a result of major outbreaks, or was this also when someone thought they had bad fish? Witness testimony isn't exactly reliable, either. Most people get what my animal science instructor called 'the 24 hour Montezuma's' and blame the last thing they ate. It seems logical until you realize that our digestive tracts take 8 - 12 hours or more to completely digest and excrete food. Diarrhea can't be caused by something you just ate. Also, people can be biased against certain foods or even certain restaurants where they may have gotten bad service.

2. Specific ingredients.
Only data from major outbreaks can be traced back to a specific food. An individual with the help of a whole team of doctors couldn't derive the poison food culprit unless they had a sample of every food they ate in the previous 2 days. For instance, I had chicken(no meat on this list...interesting), cheese, potatoes, and ranch dressing(contains eggs) today. According to this list, I died 4 hours ago.

3. An unloaded gun never killed anyone.
Preparation is a critical control point in safe food preparation. I'll use spinach as an example. Yes, deer, rabbits, and migrant farm workers without access to toilets have probably peed on at least some of the spinach. That spinach is not doomed to be contaminated when you pick it up at the store, however. The spinach is washed and rinsed in at least 2 steps, sealed in airtight packaging, stored in a temperature controlled warehouse, shipped in refrigerated trucks, shelved in a cold environment, and brought home for you to cross contaminate with the raw chicken you were just cutting. Good job. Even if the spinach was contaminated in the field, the wash/rinse steps should eliminate any pathogens. Dole cannot be responsible for your food prep techniques or your temperature abuse.

A fair list:
Instead of looking at food that went wrong, it is probably better to look at food that have the highest concentrations of micro organisms to begin with. Then we can build a list based on the worst case scenario of food safety and sanitation.

1. Sprouts.
Sorry hippies, but at around 7 - 9 log Colony forming units(cfu)/g(gram)/cc(cubic centimeter), sprouts are the most germ riddled produce out there. What makes this the most dangerous is the fact that there isn't much processing that can be done due to their fragility.
2. Greens

3. Berries

4. Onions

5. Potatoes

- a note about eggs. In the stories I read about this list, eggs are placed in there rather nonchalantly, as if we can all agree that eggs are nasty.

'What about salmonella?'

Assuming you eat cooked eggs, this shouldn't be an issue. Now, let's assume you are making a dressing or a meringue, now what? Salmonella occurs in eggs at a rate of about 1 in 20,000. Chances are, you'll be fine.

A final note about calories/sodium.

Sodium works opposite potassium to regulate inter and extracellular fluids. Too much sodium is as bad as no sodium. Yes, pay attention, but do not shoot for zero.

Calories should be looked at as a currency of the foods we eat. The amount of calories in our banks depends on the weight, musculature, and physical activity we are trying to support. If you weight train, run for distance, or have a high metabolism, then you will need more calories. For instance, Michael Phelps consumed 12,000 calories a day while at the height of his olympic training. On the other hand, a 185 lb man with normal musculature, living an inactive lifestyle, need only consume 2,220 calories per day.

Use calories like money. Go ahead pend 2,000 on those cheese fries(Outback's are fantastic), just short yourself some calories for the next couple days or so to stay within budget. Too many calories consumed - you blew your budget and you'll gain. Too few calories consumed - you are a tight wad and you'll lose weight.

Do not, I repeat, do not try to get to zero with calories. That will lead to eating disorders, body dimorphic disorder, and eventually organ failure.