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Neil Reyer Has Left the Building (and other thoughts for 2011)

Sharp-eyed readers of this magazine did not imagine their sightings of long-time foodservice icon Neil Reyer among the other photographs from the report on the FM IDEAS Conference that appeared in last month's issue.

That was indeed Neil on page 36, whom in real life we coaxed out of retirement to be our conference's closing speaker. And in that role, he was just as iconoclastically funny as ever (I think there's little question he still remains the funniest guy in foodservice, even if he is retired!)

For those readers who don't know him, Neil had a long career as executive director of foodservice in the New York City banking and financial services industry, as well as early stints in international hospitality and airline foodservice. He'd been recognized with just about every award in B&I foodservice as well as an IFMA Silver Plate. And while his management ability was always highly regarded, his claim to fame was always his dry wit, insight into human foibles and seemingly innate ability to turn the ironies of everyday foodservice life into a long-running standup comedy routine.

Neil's presence in the December issue was regrettably — and unintentionally — fleeting, however. Last minute holiday deadline layout and copyfitting in our offices inadverdently cut out the photograph's caption and the references to his presentation that should have appeared at the conclusion of that story.

We struggled to think of a way to address our lapse (it's already been corrected in the story's online version), but the best way seemed to report just a few of the all-too-true “Reyerisms” from his presentation on this page, even if they appear without his trademark delivery style. So here goes:

On customer feedback: “A complaint is always considered real by your boss.”

On expertise: “Anybody who eats three meals a day is an expert in foodservice.”

On flavor: “Soup is always too salty.”

On portion control: “The server who uses the big scoop is always the most popular.”

On food poisoning: “Any and all ailments will be blamed on your cafeteria.”

And finally, On customers: “The customer is not always right. The customers provide good input, but they're very rarely right.”
(Sorry about my flat delivery, Neil!)

Readers who want to get a much better sense of Neil's very funny take on life can read two of his most popular columns from our past issues: "42 Reasons to Look Forward to Retirement" and "Reyer Redux".

Just as 2011 launched, I noted the announcement of yet another national meat recall for possible e.coli contamination. Such recalls have become so common that they no longer attract the headlines they once did. That doesn't make them any less of a concern to the buyers of affected products — or to operators who have watched as repeated recalls over the past few years have eroded consumer confidence in the prepared food they buy.

In the long term, the final signing in January of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a new law that will overhaul our national food safety system, should be seen as a welcome advance for everyone in our industry. It will now give the FDA the power to mandate recalls, a power it did not have before; increase the frequency of inspections of both U.S. and foreign food facilities; more tightly regulate fresh fruits and vegetables that pose the highest risk; and many other reforms.

In the medium term, though, the new law may well result in more recalls and more attention to the food safety issue. They remain a fact of life for anyone involved in foodservice, and it's important that we put as much focus on improving the speed at which recall information is disseminated and can be acted upon as we do upon prevention measures.

That's just one reason why every operator in the foodservice industry should welcome the advances being made by the many industry partners in the GS 1 Standards initiative, including IFMA, IFDA and NRA. The initiative has many goals, but a key one is to create a common foundation for food safety and traceability that will extend throughout the supply chain in ways that make critical information more quickly and readily available to operators and others for whom time is always of the essence.

We'll be saying more about the GS1 initiative in coming months.

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