The Importance of Standard Operating Procedures

September 2018

Natalie, the camp baker, was spontaneously thrust into finishing the meat entrée after Shayla announced that she had a family emergency and ran out the door, leaving the pork loin in the oven. Natalie was ServSafe certified two years ago but suddenly drew a blank trying to remember the cooked temperature requirement for pork loin. The food service manager was away on vacation, as summer camp had ended two weeks ago. In your kitchen, would Natalie have written standard operating procedures (SOPs) where she could find the information needed for the safety of your campers or guests?

The Urgency of Written SOPs

SOPs are written procedures that specify how and why every task is done. SOPs are meticulously detailed processes; their existence and application is not only a foundational component of your operation, but they become the system of your operation. Some camp kitchens rely on unwritten procedures, perhaps because of “this is how we’ve always done it” traditions. The danger to unwritten procedures is that your product and your process could lose stability with new staff, new supervisors, or absent staff in your kitchen — or that you may unknowingly fail to follow FDA Food Code regulations, which are revised every four years.

Does your staff know exactly what to do in case of a power outage? Your SOP should have specific instructions. If you use volunteers at times, they may be excellent cooks but may likely not be educated about food safety issues, so SOPs could facilitate their training. Having written procedures in one location is an important part of your kitchen for:

  • Food safety
  • Compliance with industry regulations
  • Staff training tools
  • Reference for staff
  • Standardization of processes
  • Consistency in processes
  • Reduction of mistakes

What Procedures Should Be Included in Your SOPs

FDA Food Code’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) for food safety should be your top priority when developing SOPs, so I suggest ensuring that this section is written first, no matter where you decide to place it in your document and binder. Other SOPs could include Hygiene; Food Ordering and Storage; Communications; Sanitation; Facility Equipment Use and Cleaning; Employee Training; and SOPs specific to your individual operation such as Opening and Closing Procedures, Employee Breaks and Meals, and Campout/Packout Food Process. Check out “Transporting Food to Remote Sites (Satellite Kitchens)” at theicn.org/icn-resources-a-z/standard-operating-procedures/ (Institute of Child Nutrition, 2018).

In my Camp Gilmont SOPs, I also included our camp policies and forms regarding the implementation of food allergies, so our kitchen staff could see precisely what the camp communicated to prospective campers and guests.

Tips for Creating or Revising Your SOPs

SOPs for any food service are extensive, and developing them can be a formidable task. Whether you choose this method or prefer to adopt an industry leader’s or peer’s format and make revisions for your purposes, involving your food service team in the development and/or revision of SOPs will help with buy in and implementation. Writing them from scratch will typically be a lengthy process involving steady and diligent work. The first step is to make a list of all SOPs needed, placing each under a subheading, such as those listed in the preceding section. This list will help you determine the total number that need to be written and/or adapted. An excellent list to spur ideas is located at ncfreshproducesafety.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/SOPcklistHACCP.pdf?fwd=no.

Next, set a goal to create a certain number per week and stick to this schedule. You may be able to speed the process by checking out some of the other food service SOPs online. Of the numerous formats I reviewed, the following three formats could serve as a guideline for your SOPs:

  1. The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach website lists SOPs for Restaurants in both document and PDF formats at extension.iastate.edu/ foodsafety/SOP-restaurant. Document forms could be kept on your computer for updating, and PDFs could be printed for laminating and adding to your SOP binder (Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, 2018). 
  2. The Institute of Child Nutrition (formerly National Food Service Management Institute or NFSMI) website offers 28 downloadable HACCP Food Safety Procedures at theicn.org/icn-resources-a-z/ standard-operating-procedures/. All procedures relate only to food safety, which is basic and of most importance in any commercial kitchen (Institute of Child Nutrition, 2018). You might choose to download these and change “school” or “district” to “camp” where applicable. After these HACCP safety procedures are adapted and printed for your binder, you will need to add your other procedures.
  3. Menucha Retreat and Conference Center’s (MRCC) “Kitchen Policies and Operating Procedures” takes a different approach in that it begins with Opening Procedures and gives instructions chronologically throughout a workday, with some pauses to cover sections such as the Ordering Process and Fire Safety. The document ends with Closing Procedures. See the MRCC document at menucha.org/wp-content/ uploads/2010/01/Kitchen- Policies.pdf (Lynch, 1997).

SOP Final Touches

Jerry Isenhour, in his book Standardizing Standard Operating Procedures (2017), emphasizes that each individual SOP must contain:

  1. A title relating to the task
  2. The reason you are doing it
  3. Specific steps required and materials used, so that a person unfamiliar to the task can easily complete it

Isenhour encourages SOP builders to prioritize by color-coding each chapter or section of your SOPs. He suggests red as the color for the divider tab and title of the “Critical” SOP section, then choosing other individual colors for “Very Important,” “Important,” and “Somewhat Important.” Another idea is to color-code the different sections for different topics, unrelated to importance. After the product is finished, allow someone outside of your team to proofread and suggest edits.

Remember, your SOPs will need to be reviewed annually for updates needed in the event regulations have changed or you have purchased a new piece of kitchen equipment, for example.

Kathy Brandt (2018) says in her UMN Extension SOP article that standard operating procedures “help employees perform their job and keep them accountable because of documented expectations,” and “consistently provide safe, high-quality foods and services to customers,” and I would add high-quality overall operation.

World War II era US Marine and Medal of Honor recipient William A. Foster put it well: “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives” (Mason, 2001).

References

Brandt, K. & Driessen, S. (2018). Standard operating procedures (SOPs). University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved from extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/food-service-industry/regulations/standard-operating-procedures/

Institute of Child Nutrition. (2018). Standard operating procedures. Retrieved from theicn.org/icn-resources-a-z/standard-operating-procedures/

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. (2018). Standard operating procedures — Restaurants. Food Safety. Retrieved from extension.iastate.edu/ foodsafety/SOP-restaurant

Iowa State University School HACCP Project. (2018). Food safety and HACCP SOP checklist. Retrieved from ncfreshproducesafety.ces.ncsu.edu/ wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ SOPcklistHACCP.pdf?fwd=no

Isenhour, J. (2017). Standardizing standard operating procedures. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Lynch, F. (1997). Kitchen policies & operating procedures. Menucha Retreat and Conference Center. Retrieved from menucha.org/wp-content/ uploads/2010/01/Kitchen-Policies.pdf

Mason, M. (2001). Igniting the spirit at work: Daily reflections. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

US Food & Drug Administration. (2017). Food code 2017. FDA. Retrieved from fda.gov/food/ guidanceregulation/retailfoodprotection/foodcode/ ucm595139.htm


Kimberly Whiteside Truitt works as food service director for Camp Gilmont and Camp Zephyr. She formerly served for six years as a member of Camping Magazine’s Editorial Advisory Committee. Kimberly is married to Thomas and mom to Harrison and Benjamin.