The onus is on restaurant owners to ensure local suppliers adhere to food safety standards.
Farm-to-Table’s Food Safety
call for locally sourced
menus, but short
supply chains up the
risk of foodborne
By Katie Siegel
The National Restaurant Association surveyed 1,298 members of the American Culinary Federation in October 2016, asking them to rate 169 items as a “hot trend,” “yesterday’s news,” or a “perennial favorite.” The chefs and restaurateurs ranked ‘hyper-local sourcing’ as the No.
1 concept trend. Eighty percent of respondents called this a “hot trend.” Locally-sourced produce was ranked number five, and locally-sourced meat and seafood
was ranked number six.
A variety of factors are driving the farm-to-table trend, which focuses on
sourcing products from suppliers located within 100 miles from the restaurant.
Environmental sustainability is one of those factors. As the effects of climate change
become more evident and more widely publicized, consumers seek ways to reduce
their carbon footprint. Trucking in food from an hour away versus from across the
country significantly reduces the emissions generated from food transport.
An increased focus on health and wellness is another factor. More and more,
diners not only want to consume fresh food, they also want to know just how fresh
it is. Knowing that your salad is made of veggies harvested from an organic farm
just 50 miles away makes that food seem more wholesome.
Finally, a desire to support small farmers and local businesses is another reason
restaurant patrons want farm-to-table menus.
FOOD SAFETY RISKS
Conventional wisdom suggests that eatery owners should be all for this trend,
as shorter supply chains typically equal less risk.
Restaurateurs can go out and visit their supplier themselves, talk to the farmers
in person and see their processes with their own two eyes — and be back at
their businesses within a few hours. Delivery time is shortened. There are fewer
But removing those intermediaries makes it harder to control food safety.
Smaller suppliers might not be subject to same regulatory oversight that a big
producer would be, and they lack the resources of large commercial farms
and food processors to do thorough and regular ingredient testing. Cutting
out intermediaries could also mean reducing the number of quality control
If a farm-to-table restaurant has locations in multiple regions, the supply chain
also grows fragmented since each location will use a different network of local
suppliers. That makes it even harder to control food quality and ensure product
“Quick-serve restaurant chains have the special challenge of needing to be
responsive to consumers’ growing interest in farm to table, but the volume of
standard ingredients they require for national distribution exceed the capabilities
of almost all local producers,” said John Quelch, food safety expert and Dean of
the Miami Business School.
“They therefore have to work with and qualify many local producers to meet
their quality control and food safety
standards, which inevitably adds cost.”
It also adds liability.
Large commercial farms and food
manufacturers are subject to more
regulatory scrutiny and inspected
far more frequently. They are more
likely to have established safety and
food testing procedures and on-site
inspectors. Small, local farmers are
typically less experienced in food safety
testing or USDA inspections.
“Large farms and manufacturers
that are selling into Giant or Wegmans
“Dealing directly with small,
individual farms means taking
on a lot of the quality control
— Scott Aiello, vice president, product manager,
industry practices, Liberty Mutual
• The American Culinary
Federation calls hyper-local
sourcing a hot trend.
• Short supply chains reduce
the number of quality control
• Farm-to-table restaurateurs take
on greater responsibility for food