September 14, 2021

John Zimmermann Named 2021 Outstanding Food Safety Leader by National Restaurant Association

Washington, D.C. – The National Restaurant Association today named John Zimmermann, Vice President of Quality Assurance and Food Safety at First Watch Restaurants, as the 2021 Outstanding Food Safety Leader. The annual award was sponsored by Ecolab and was part of the Association’s Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) Expert Exchange digital event.

The award recognizes an individual’s dedication to food safety through personal and career accomplishments such as improving food safety systems or processes, introducing innovations to manage food supplies or foodservice operations, or mentoring other foodservice professionals. This year, the award also acknowledges the extraordinary efforts of food safety leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Food safety is a critical hallmark of the restaurant industry and over the last 18 months, FSQA professionals and leaders have stepped up to proactively keep their employees and customers safe,” said Jeffrey Clark, Expert Exchange director for the National Restaurant Association. “But this award isn’t just about how they’ve responded to the pandemic, it’s about the hard work, dedication, and integrity these individuals put into protecting people and jobs that make up the restaurant industry each day.” 

Zimmermann has more than 30 years of experience in QA and food safety that spans food processing, distribution, and the foodservice industry. At First Watch, he is responsible for establishing standards and developing, implementing, and leading programs that directly impact food safety, quality, customer satisfaction, and innovation to ensure that only high-quality and safe food is served to all First Watch customers.  

“I am honored, humbled, and grateful to receive this truly special award. I have not walked alone during my food safety journey, and I would like to thank all those who helped pave the path, especially the National Restaurant Association community,” said Zimmermann. “We all have an important role to play when it comes to food safety. 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 this past year, has helped ensure consumer trust for all those we serve. I have been very fortunate to work for companies, like First Watch, that truly recognize the value of a strong food safety culture as part of our brand identity.”

A panel of six food safety professionals, five of whom are National Restaurant Association Food Safety and Quality Assurance Executive Exchange Steering Committee members and one vice president from Ecolab, evaluated the award nominations to select a winner.  

Find more information about the Food Safety and Quality Assurance Expert Exchange here.

About the National Restaurant Association

Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association is the leading business association for the restaurant industry, which comprises more than 1 million restaurant and foodservice outlets and a workforce of 15.5 million employees. Together with 52 State Associations, we are a network of professional organizations dedicated to serving every restaurant through advocacy, education, and food safety. We sponsor the industry's largest trade show (National Restaurant Association Show); leading food safety training and certification program (ServSafe); unique career-building high school program (the NRAEF's ProStart). For more information, visit and find @WeRRestaurants on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.