To remain viable in an ever-changing and competitive environment, food operations must remain active and focused on expansion. This may mean operators will enter nontraditional areas as a way to increase their brand and not allow themselves to be outpaced by others.
While consumers rightly insist on safe food, convenience and preference also remain an important part of what they desire, and the emergence of nontraditional food operations is addressing this desire.
Nontraditional food operations such as temporary food establishments, shared-kitchen opera-
tions, online food delivery programs, and even mobile food trucks will usually involve reduced
investments, overall cost reductions, and lower maintenance. Due to these scaled-down opera-
tions, there are some limitations, including services, which can impact food quality and safety.
Food regulatory agencies can be challenged by these types of nontraditional
food operations. In fact, they always have been. Many supermarkets now include
full-scale restaurants, while restaurants are now delivering food directly to consumer homes themselves or through third parties. Cash-and-carry warehouses
allow small stores and restaurants to pick up perishable and time/temperature
control for safety (TCS) foods and transport them to their commercial facility
in the back of their SUVs without any refrigeration at all. Ethnic foods can be
found marketed everywhere, and some of them are a bit of a mystery to regulators. Have you ever tried bird’s nest soup?1 Can you resist the attraction of baluts? 2 Call the police if you bump into bush meat! 3 These are just a few examples
of what regulatory agents can run into during daily routine inspections.
At the same time as these advances, scarce resources and citizen activism are
resulting in the successful detection of foodborne outbreaks through crowd-based
technology and whole-genome sequencing, further stressing regulatory resources.
And there’s no telling what the future might bring to foodservice. Dinner on
demand already exists in many neighborhoods—and so do pop-up kitchens and
food halls. Robots will provide precise formulations of ingredients for processing
or preparation; they are already serving ice cream treats through vending machines,
making pizzas, and cooking burgers. Temperature sensors and digital tracking devices
are sure to change government inspection protocols and hopefully reduce food safety
challenges for all stakeholders—but that is tomorrow, which is coming at breakneck
speed. Today, regulators must address the challenges of the past and the present with an
eye to what is around the next turn.
The following snapshot stories focus on nontraditional food operations, including
mobile food vehicles, shared kitchens, and online food sales, and the challenges they
present to regulatory authorities charged with the licensing and inspection of these op-
erations. This, coupled with the changes in illness detection through citizen reporting
mechanisms, provides continued opportunities for advancement.