First Watch's Zimmermann is responsible for introducing new cleaning program enhancements, improving ventilation systems, and helping to navigate supply-chain disruption issues during the pandemic.

The National Restaurant Association named John Zimmermann, VP of Quality Assurance and Food Safety for First Watch Restaurants, its 2021 Outstanding Food Safety Leader.

The Association honored Zimmermann during its Food Safety and Quality Assurance Expert Exchange digital event, Sept. 14. The annual award, sponsored by Ecolab, honors dedication to food safety through personal and career accomplishment, such as improving systems or processes, introducing innovations to manage food supplies or operations, and mentoring other foodservice professionals. This year, the award also recognized extraordinary measures taken to protect customers and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A panel of six food-safety professionals—five who serve on the Association’s FSQA Executive Exchange steering committee, and a vice president from Ecolab—were especially impressed with Zimmermann’s accomplishments, including:

  • Establishing and enforcing COVID-19 procedures into the First Watch employee health and wellness program, such as a “COVID-19-positive” employee response plan, exclusion criteria, and a database to track ill employees.
     
  • Sourcing approved forehead thermometers for daily temporal fever checks.
     
  • Updating 3rd-party audit protocols to ensure knowledge and compliance with the brand’s new employee wellness program and developing visitor COVID-19 rules.
     
  • Establishing, maintaining, and updating COVID-19 regulatory requirements that assisted in the reopening of restaurants.

He also introduced new cleaning program enhancements, including research on effective, EPA-approved products and new cleaning procedures for high-touch technology; worked to improve ventilation systems; and helped navigate supply-chain disruption issues by approving secondary-source suppliers and product substitutions, as well as transitioning to a new distributor.

In addition, Zimmermann assisted in the launch of a 3rd-party delivery service safety protocol that featured requirements for packaging and tamper-evident standards, safe alcohol-to-go procedures, and ready-to-eat retail products.

A veteran of more than 30 years in QA and food safety, Zimmermann said, “We all have an important role to play when it comes to food safety,” he said. “The opportunity to put competition aside and collaborate with industry peers to benchmark or share best practices, particularly when faced with a global health crisis, has helped ensure consumer trust for all we serve.”

Learn more about the FSQA Expert Exchange