National Food Safety Month Week 3: Focus on Multi-Unit Operators

From our partners at the National Restaurant Association

The secret to managing food safety across multiple sites

For week three of National Food Safety Month, we explore how restaurant managers overseeing multiple locations can standardize food safety across the entire workforce. Multi-unit managers must be able to manage day-to-day logistics, provide guidance for team leaders, and handle problems as they arise. Additionally, restaurant managers are responsible for promoting and maintaining safe food handling practices among all employees. So, how can multi-unit managers juggle these responsibilities and lead their teams to food safety success? By systemizing food safety management.

The Role of Multi-Unit Restaurant Managers in Food Safety

Multi-unit managers have many roles to fulfill. The most important one is keeping customers safe. Food safety must be at the forefront of every decision multi-unit restaurant managers make. This includes systemizing food safety management for consistency across all locations, keeping up to date on local regulations, and making sure every team member feels empowered by food safety knowledge.

Strengthening Your Food Safety Management System

Chances are, as a restaurant manager you already follow some sort of Food Safety Management System (FSMS). But how can you be sure your efforts to promote food safety are enough?

When workplace practices are rooted in strong, research backed policies and procedures, foodborne illness risk factors are significantly reduced, customer satisfaction is increased, and employees are more empowered to make smart food safety decisions.

A strong FSMS is rooted in active managerial control (AMC) principles. You can implement these principles into your restaurant operations through:

  • Training programs
  • Standardized procedures
  • Measures to gauge success

Learn more about strengthening your FSMS and leading your workforce to success in our eBook: Developing a Culture of Food Safety – Restaurant Manager’s Edition.

Know Your Local Regulations

Knowing the rules and regulations of your jurisdictional area is critical for staying on top of ever-changing retail food safety requirements. You should be familiar with your state food code and make sure you  keep abreast of changes or updates. Use this map created by the National Association of County Health Officials to find your local department.

As you’re probably aware, different areas in the US have varying requirements for food safety certification and training for restaurant employees. The ServSafe Regulatory Map is an interactive, up-to-date map that allows you to see your employee food safety training requirements. Visit the link below to view the Food Safety Management and Food Handling requirements specific to your operating jurisdiction now.

See national regulator map here.

Empower Your Team

Developing a culture of food safety throughout your operations starts with empowering employees. Employees who are informed of food safety best practices and have access to valuable information are more likely to develop winning habits.

ServSafe Ops is a restaurant operations management platform that drives operational efficiency through task verification, access to information, ongoing training, issue identification, employee engagement, and more. With customizable checklists and reporting, ServSafe Ops provides verification of tasks completed and acts as both a measure of employee performance and a method for engagement with your brand.

National Food Safety Month Week 2: Focus on Food Managers

From our partners at the National Restaurant Association

To kick off National Food Safety Month last week, we revisited food safety basics and explored the role that food handlers play in preventing the spread of pathogens. This week, we take a closer look at the role that restaurant and foodservice managers have in promoting a safe environment for their customers through self-inspection and risk mitigation. By learning what to look for in health inspections, managers can run regular assessments and make preparation a part of their staff’s regular routine. Let’s take a closer look at how managers can stay prepared.

A Manager’s Role in Food Safety

Restaurant and foodservice managers are faced with the critical role of fostering a food-safe environment. One of the best ways managers can create an ongoing strategy for success is by staying prepared for health inspections. Health inspectors want to know that  managers are running a safe, clean operation by checking for many of the basic food safety practices we covered last week. Running regular self-inspections is a great way to test staff knowledge, address problems at the source, and ensure a safe and enjoyable dining experience for customers. An equally important role managers have in fostering a food-safe environment is preventing dangerous foodborne illnesses caused by cross-contamination.

A Restaurant Manager’s Guide to Passing Health Inspections

Much like restaurant managers, keeping customers safe is a health inspector’s number one priority. In our guide, we go over some common health inspection challenges, the basic policies, practices, and requirements managers must have in place before an inspection, and what managers can do to stay prepared.

Download the self-inspection e-book here.

Performing Self-Inspections

Preparing for your next health inspection with a self-inspection checklist is a great way to make sure your staff is up to speed on food safety practices and check your facility for potential issues. Make sure to speak with your local health department about food safety guidelines for your area and review your state and local food codes frequently for specific requirements and updates.

Download the self-inspection checklist here. 

Risks and Prevention of Norovirus

Norovirus is a serious, highly contagious illness that is spread through close contact, contaminated food, or contaminated surfaces. This virus sends around 70,000 people to the hospital each year and nearly 70% of outbreaks can be traced back to infected food service workers. As a restaurant manager, knowing the risks can help you prevent contamination and manage an outbreak should one occur. These basic prevention tips can help protect staff members, customers, and the greater public:

  • Exclude food handlers who are vomiting or have diarrhea from the operation
  • Prevent handling ready-to-eat food with bare hands
  • Make sure staff are washing hands thoroughly, whenever required
  • Ensure fruits and vegetables are rinsed before use
  • Regularly clean and sanitize surfaces and utensils
  • Purchase shellfish from approved reputable suppliers

Watch the norovirus and hand-washing video here.


National Food Safety Month Week 1: Food Handlers

Contact RCS Training today for your food handler training! Learn more here.

From our partners at the National Restaurant Association

National Food Safety Month (NFSM) 2022 is here and we’re excited to kick off a month of exploring food safety at every level starting with the most essential restaurant employees: food handlers. Food handlers have an important role in keeping food safe, as many handlers come in direct contact with menu items. Simple safe food handling practices can help prevent the spread of pathogens and keep customers protected from foodborne illnesses. But as easy as safe food handling practices are to learn, they can also be easy to forget. Let’s revisit some basic food safety standards and best practices.

Food Handlers’ Role in Food Safety

The role of a food handler is so important that most states require restaurant and foodservice employees to obtain a Food Handler Certification as a requirement for employment. Customers trust that food handlers practice basic food safety and have their best interests in mind. After all, everyone wants to feel safe when dining out. Food handlers have a responsibility to meet the expectations of customers by following a food safety standard, or else run the risk of putting patrons in danger.

Basic Food Safety Practices

Practice Good Personal Hygiene

  • Know when, where, and how to wash your hands.
  • Only use single-use gloves when handling food. NEVER rinse, wash, or reuse gloves.
  • Keep fingernails short and clean. DO NOT wear nail polish or false nails. Make sure wounds are covered correctly.
  • Always wear clean, appropriate clothing and bathe daily. DO NOT wear rings, bracelets, or watches.
  • NEVER eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum or tobacco in prep areas, areas used to clean utensils and equipment, or in service areas.
  • If you are experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes), or a sore throat with a fever, report these symptoms to a manager immediately.

Learn more about when to wash your hands

Controlling Time and Temperature

  • Know which foods are most likely to become unsafe (temperature controlled for safety, or TCS food).
  • Keep foods out of the temperature danger zone: 41°F to 135°F (5°C to 57°C).
  • Know how to use a food thermometer.
  • Receive cold TCS food at 41°F (5°C) or lower. Receive hot TCS food at 135°F (57°C) or higher.
  • Store TCS food safely at the right temperature.
  • Cooked TCS food must reach the correct internal temperature and stay there for a specific amount of time.
  • Prepare food safely. NEVER
    • Thaw TCS food at room temperature.
    • Prepare TCS food in large batches.
    • Cool large amounts of hot food in a cooler or cool food at room temperature.
    • Use hot-holding equipment to reheat food (unless it has been made for this purpose).
  • Make sure cooked TCS food reaches the correct internal temperature and stays there for a specific amount of time.

Download this comprehensive cooking temperature

Preventing Cross-Contamination

  • Store food only in designated food storage areas, away from walls, off the floor, and wrapped or covered.
  • Make sure workstations, cutting boards, equipment, and utensils are cleaned and sanitized before prepping food.
  • Keep produce away from raw meat and wash before use.
  • When serving, do NOT touch the parts of dishes, glassware, or utensils that come in contact with food.
  • Always store chemicals and cleaning supplies in a designated storage area, NEVER store near food.

Cleaning and Sanitizing

  • Know the difference between cleaning and sanitizing: cleaning removes food and other dirt from a surface; sanitizing reduces pathogens on a surface to safe levels.
  • Know which surfaces to clean and/or which to clean and sanitize, when to clean them, and how to do it.
  • Use a dishwasher (when available) to clean and sanitize smaller items and a three-compartment sink for larger items.
  • Remove garbage from prep areas as quickly as possible. Do NOT clean garbage containers near prep or food-storage areas.
  • Look out for these pest signs:
    • Droppings
    • Nests
    • Damage to products, packages, or the facility


Congratulations to Florida’s New Michelin-Recognized Restaurants

TALLAHASSEE — Last night was a great victory for Florida restaurants, including dozens of FRLA Members across the state, who were recognized by the revered Michelin Guide. Restaurants in Tampa, Orlando, and Miami were recognized in categories for one star, two stars, Bib Gourmand awards, and recommended restaurants. Sommelier of the Year and Best Cocktail were also awarded.

“Guests come from across the state, country, and globe to experience Florida’s world-class dining options, said Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “Not only is the Michelin recognition well deserved, but it will bring more people to our state, to our hotels, and to our restaurants, strengthening our communities and the overall health of our hospitality industry. Congratulations to our many FRLA member winners and to all recognized!”



2 Stars 

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Miami

1-Star Awards 


Boia De

Cote Miami

The Den at Sushi Azabu Miami

Elcielo Miami: Juan Manuel Barrientos

Hiden:  Chef Shingo Akikuni

Le Jardinier

Los Félix

Stubborn Seed: Jeremy Ford

The Surf Club Restaurant: Thomas Keller

Bib Gourmand (Value for Money) 


Chug’s Diner


El Turco

Ghee Indian Kitchen

Hometown Barbecue Miami


Krüs Kitchen

La Natural


Lung Yai Thai Tapas

Mandolin Aegean Bistro

Michael’s Genuine

Phuc Yea

Red Rooster Overtown

Sanguich de Miami

Tinta y Café

Zak the Baker

Zitz Sum

Sommelier of the Year

Victoria James, Cote Miami

Exceptional Cocktail Award

Ruben Rolon, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon Miami and Le Jardinier Miami

Michelin-Recommended Miami

 Mister 01 Extraordinary Pizza

Nossa Omakase



Estiatorio Milos

Joe’s Stone Crab


Le Zoo


Josh’s Deli

Latin Café


Sushi Yasu Tanaka



Buya Izakaya + Yakitori




Hakkasan Miami

Niu Kitchen


Luca Osteria

La Camaronera


Hiyakawa Miami

Doca Provisions

Café La Trova

Los Fuegos by Francis Mallman

Pao by Paul Qui

Hoja Taqueria

La Mar by Gaston Aurio

27 Restaurant & Bar


Havana Harry’s


1-Star Awards in Orlando

Knife & Spoon




Bib Gourmand 

Bombay Street Kitchen

Ravenous Pig

Papa Llama



Swine & Sons

Z Asian

Michelin-Recommended Orlando


California Grill

Orlando Meats


Se7en Bites


The Pinery


Kabooki Sushi


Pizza Bruno


Kai Asian Street Fare

Black Rooster Taqueria


Tori Tori

Shin Jung

Maxine’s on Shine

Sticky Rice

The Polite Pig

Four Flamingos, A Richard Blais Florida Kitchen

Moriomoto Asia

Sear + Sea


Bib Gourmand

Ichicoro Ramen


Rooster and the Till

Michelin-Recommended Tampa

Bern’s Steakhouse



Restaurant BT

Oak & Ola





Mise en Place



Yummy House


Bistro BT

On Swann


To visit the Michelin Guide site for all Florida-recognized restaurants, click here.





Congratulations to FRLA Members For Winning Forbes Five-Star Awards

Congratulations to the following FRLA members in Miami for being awarded the 2022 Forbes Five-Star Awards!
Read the full list in the Miami Herald article here:
The Spa at Carillon Miami Beach

How to grow your Instagram followers for your small business

Thursday, October 21, 2021

As a small business owner, you know how powerful word of mouth is for attracting new customers. You also likely know how important it is to use social media platforms to help you spread the word–digitally. But did you know that brand engagement rates are highest on Instagram, beating both Facebook and Twitter? According to Instagram, 90% of its users follow at least one business.

How can you grow your Instagram followers and potential customer base — and keep your target audience coming back for more? In this article, you’ll learn why Instagram engagement matters, how to use the different features of the platform and tips and tricks for maximizing your reach and impact. We can help you set goals, set your Instagram account up for success and help you make the most out of your Instagram posts. Let’s dive in.

Set social media marketing strategy goals

Setting social media marketing strategy goals for your Instagram page can help you monitor the time, effort, and potential money you’re investing in marketing on platforms like Instagram.

Having clear Instagram engagement goals can help you plan and create content as well as monitor improvement. Marketing strategy goals can also help your team create quality content that aligns with what you aim to accomplish.

Set up a profile using Instagram for Business
Once you’ve set your goals, it’s time to start making your Instagram profile work for you. If your account is not set up as a business profile, consider switching to an Instagram for Business account. Using an Instagram for Business account provides benefits such as:

  • Instagram analytics and tools that show how well your content is performing so you can track your goals more easily and understand your audience demographics and more.
  • Features to expand your profile and sell products, including the ability to create and publish Instagram ads without having to use advertising tools through Facebook.

Creating a unique and on-brand Instagram page, in addition to high-quality content, can help you hook new followers by showing them why your business is worth following.

Create an Instagram bio that tells your story
While not directly tied to follower growth, your Instagram bio is your first opportunity to connect with potential followers and get them to click the follow button. The bio is a place to showcase your brand’s personality, tell visitors about your products or services and what makes it unique. An Instagram bio should include your company’s category/industry, your location(s), contact info and a link to your website. You also can include associated social media account handles.

There’s limited real estate to tell your brand’s story. With only 150 characters available, you need to keep it brief. You can use formatting to organize info in your Instagram bio, such as line breaks to create vertical spacing. If it makes sense for your brand’s voice, consider using emojis to show off your brand’s personality and potentially save character space. You could also use a call to action (CTA) in your bio to set up your profile’s link.

A profile photo can help potential followers instantly recognize that it’s your company. Most businesses use a logo, logomark (the logo without any words) or mascot as a profile photo. You could also use a photo of your sign or storefront–even an image of your signature products. Don’t feel like you have to limit your creativity, but make sure the image can easily identify your brand.

Use one clickable link to get followers to explore pages, content
Instagram offers one clickable link field in the bio for accounts with less than 10,000 followers. Your clickable link is prime real estate to send a potential customer where you’d like them to go. You can use the link to send people to your main website homepage or frequently change out the link to reflect an event you’re promoting or other current content you may produce.

Additionally, tools are available to create a “link in bio” link tree/landing page to offer multiple clickable links for Instagram posts, product pages and other links without leaving the Instagram app. This approach is best for businesses that have numerous offerings and want to drive customer traffic to multiple links or different types of content. No matter which strategy you use, you should use your clickable link to send Instagram users to visit other relevant content.


Create a visual identity and brand voice true to your business
Instagram is all about visuals, no matter the format. Maintaining a consistent visual identity that represents your brand can give your content a cohesive feel. This identity can include your brand colors, tones, and much more. Editing style, filters, and photo composition can all affect your visual identity.

A consistent and unique visual identity can help new followers get to know your brand by just seeing it. If you stay consistent, your Instagram audience will begin to associate the style with your brand unconsciously. No matter what content format you use on Instagram, your content should look like you and tell your brand’s story while adding value to your audience.

Your Instagram captions and text are just as crucial for brand storytelling and helping users find you.

You don’t want to focus solely on visuals, though. Having a brand voice for Instagram can allow you to experiment with all of the Instagram content formats and still consistently sound like your brand voice.

Does your brand use emojis? Will you make memes or repost memes? Does your brand voice use humor? As with visual identity, your brand voice can help your Instagram audience know it’s your business.

Use Instagram content formats to your advantage
Instagram began as an app to share photos. It is now a social media platform that continually releases new features and content formats for users to engage. The platform offers a variety of ways your business could interact with an engaged audience, including:

  • Instagram Carousels: This feature allows for publishing up to 10 photos in a single post.
  • Instagram Reels: This format, reminiscent of TikTok, hosts 15- to 30-second videos that can include audio, visual effects or other creative tools. Reels can be shared in your Instagram feed and discovered on the Instagram Reels tab on the platform.
  • IGTV: Instagram TV, or IGTV, is for videos longer than 30 seconds. IGTV would be used best for a recurring video series.
  • Instagram Stories: Stories are photos or videos that are full-screen, vertical and disappear after 24 hours. They appear at the very top of the app rather than in the news feed. The Stories feature is a good tool for visual storytelling, where you can produce things with a beginning, middle and end. Instagram Stories also can include fun, interactive elements such as stickers, polls and filters, which can increase engagement and get your audience in the habit of viewing your Stories consistently.
  • Instagram Live: Instagram users can live stream video through Instagram Stories in this format. This format allows brands and content creators to connect directly with their followers and target audience through Q and A sessions, demonstrations and so much more.
  • Instagram Guides: This content type is a cross between Instagram Carousels and blog posts. Each guide includes a cover image, title, introduction and optional descriptions for entries that users can build from previously posted content, places, or product listings from your account.


Post and interact with your audience consistently
Building an Instagram following requires posting regularly and interacting with your audience. That said, business owners need to sleep and take vacations. Consider using a tool that lets you schedule and publish Instagram posts, especially if you’re a team of one. There are a variety of tools available at different price points, such as Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Salesforce’s Social Studio and many more that can provide the functionality that meets your goals.

Instagram users expect a steady stream of interesting, engaging or educational content from the users and brands they follow. Having a consistent posting schedule shows your audience that you’re a serious brand worth following.

Responding to comments, mentions and direct messages (DMs) is also crucial for users to feel confident following your business. Your followers are real people with opinions, issues or questions, and responding and engaging shows respect. Additionally, make time to respond when someone mentions or tags your brand in their post –– they’re helping to spread the word about you! It’s easy for users to hit the unfollow button if they feel ignored; don’t let it come to that.

Additionally, you may want to consider developing social media guidelines to help the person managing the Instagram (if it’s not you) to help them navigate interactions with your Instagram followers.

Use hashtags to feed the Instagram algorithm
Hashtags help Instagram users find the content they want to see. Instagram hashtags are keywords or phrases with a hashtag symbol before them, such as “#photography.” Instagram captions are not searchable, but hashtags are. Clicking on a hashtag or searching for a specific hashtag will show users all content associated with that tag.

Hashtags can help improve the chances of potential followers finding and engaging with your content. Posts that contain a hashtag get more engagement than those without hashtags. Consider hashtags related to your business that are easy to use, catchy and popular for your posts. You can create a branded hashtag for followers to use when posting about your business.

Using broad hashtags related to your business increases the chance people see your posts from all corners of the world. You may also want to use branded hashtags that are unique to your business to capture more local/relevant attention. If a hashtag is irrelevant to your post, it will not make sense to potential followers or aid your goals.

Help users find you with geotags
Geotags, or Instagram location tags, use a precise location that users can add to a post or Story. The tags can be identified by the GPS in a mobile device and can be geographical (like a city) or a particular business (think like a restaurant). Businesses can create a geotag for their business and start reaping the benefits of using it on posts.

Using geotags helps Instagram compile posts tagged at the location. A geotag can be added at the time of posting or retroactively. Instagram categorizes posts as “top” and “recent” posts by location, and your brand photos will live among the posts from your customers or visitors when they use a geotag while posting about or from within your business.

The “View Information” button within the geotag can link to information about the business. The geotag functions can help with brand awareness and allow potential customers to research your business and see what others have posted about you.

Promote your Instagram on other social media channels
If you have an engaged following on other social networks, let them know you’re on Instagram. Let them know what kind of content you’ll be posting – that way, they can decide if it’s worth their time to follow you in multiple locations. Additionally, use Instagram stories and crosspost them to your Facebook page to help you reach new audiences and increase the likelihood you’ll get the follow on Instagram.

Grow your reach with Instagram ads and campaigns
Instagram ads can get your content in front of a broad, targeted audience and help you reach your goals faster. You can “boost” your social posts to a wider audience or create specific advertisements for products or services. Instagram ads increase the reach of your content as well as include call-to-action buttons. These features help reduce the steps to get viewers to your website or store from the app.

You can buy Instagram ads through their platform. You set a maximum budget of what you’d like to spend for the entire time the ad runs. Costs for Instagram ads can average around $.50 to $1 per click, or cost per click (CPC). You can try out Instagram ads with a small budget and track the insights to see if it’s the right strategy for your business. It can be an effective and targeted way to reach prospective customers in the right stage of their buyer journey.


Consider working with influencers
Influencer marketing is a great way to build a loyal Instagram following. Instagram influencers are basically people who post a lot of content and have a lot of engaged followers. Influencers often work with brands and businesses to help generate interest in their products and services.

The thought of influencer marketing can seem intimidating to smaller businesses but consider working with micro-influencers: content creators with a smaller but dedicated following, often in local markets or within specific categories like food, crafts, etc. Look for popular content creators within your industry with small or large followings that might be interested in your brand.

Think about your own Instagram follower customer base. You could already have an influential (or budding) brand ambassador following you – consider making a collaboration official. The more genuine the relationship between a brand and influencer, the better.


They found you on Instagram – now deliver the great experience you showed them
Instagram growth for your business doesn’t need to be scary or a herculean effort.

With the right resources and planning, you can achieve your marketing goals with new followers and more. After all, it’s about your brand’s ability to connect with real people and showing them great content about what you do best: provide great products or services.

At Heartland, we love helping businesses succeed –– online and offline. That’s why we offer training and resources like our free Unstuck Playbook. This training walks you through easy and effective strategies to get your business from surviving to thriving. We also offer solutionsranging from payments and point of sale to customer engagement and employee management to help entrepreneurs focus on the big picture of their business.

Meet our January Member of the Month

Meet Laurie Farlow, our January 2020 Member of the Month! Laurie is the proud owner and operator of Farlow’s on the Water, located in Englewood, Florida, which she runs with her husband Keith.

Her career in the restaurant industry began in 2003, when she and Keith opened Farlow’s. The 285-seat restaurant serves food with a Caribbean taste and Southern twist. Before opening Farlow’s, Laurie had zero restaurant experience but plenty of supervisory and management service. It was actually Keith who had the experience and passion for food service. With their combined experiences, Laurie and Keith make the perfect team for operating Farlow’s.

Laurie’s favorite part about working in the restaurant industry is meeting people (customers, employees and other trade professionals). To her, customer service is about connecting with people.

Thank you, Laurie, for being a wonderful FRLA member. We are proud to honor you as our January Member of the Month.

If you haven’t already, watch Laurie’s highlight video below:

Thankful for our November Member of the Month

“We’re in the food and beverage industry. We love to make people happy. When you see a smile on the face of a guest, that’s what makes it all.” – Leigh Doyle

At FRLA, we are thankful to have such supportive and involved members like our November Member of the Month, Leigh Doyle. Leigh is the Vice President for Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ in Ocoee, Florida, and serves on the board for our Central Florida chapter, as well as a chair on the legislative committee.

His career in the hospitality and tourism industry began at Disney World, where he served countless Dole Whips to smiling faces. It was working at Disney that Leigh found his passion for the industry. Now, as Vice President, he oversees 98 employees. Leigh and the Ellie Lou’s team partner with local schools to support programs they need assistance with at the time.

Thank you, Leigh, for your involvement and love for the industry. Be sure to watch his highlight if you haven’t already!


It’s a treat to honor our October Member of the Month

We are excited to honor our October Member of the Month, Matt Moore with Fish out of Water (FOOW). FOOW is located on Scenic 30A in a small town called WaterColor, and with a prime spot right along the beach, locals and visitors alike love to admire the views and catch the sunset at night. This awesome restaurant combines two of Florida’s popular cuisines, seafood and southern cooking, in a fun, welcoming setting.

Outside of serving food for their visitors, the Fish out of Water and WaterColor team coordinated with FRLA to serve hot meals to those in need in response to Hurricane Michael in 2018, and we are so appreciative of their help.

Check out this “Instagram Worthy” restaurant on your next trip to the Gulf Coast!

The Significant Role Plastic Straws Play in Health and Safety

Straws are often thought of as a modern-day convenience, but straws have been used by almost every culture throughout history. The oldest evidence of straw usage dates to Ancient Sumeria. Long, thin tubes of precious metals which were placed into jars of beer to reach the liquid beneath the fermentation were found in Sumerian royal tombs. Evidence of straw use by people across Mesopotamia, China, and the Americas, has been found. During the Industrial Revolution, people used straws to avoid flu and polio epidemics from communal cups used at popular soda fountains. However, no one has benefited more from the advances in straw design than the disability community.

One of the first straw patents ever filed was for the “improvement in drinking-tubes for invalids” by Eugene Chapin in 1870. When Joseph Friedman founded his Flex-straw Company in 1947, hospitals were the first to buy his patented bendy straw. When factories began churning out consumer plastics after World War II, not only were plastic straws convenient for fast-food consumers because they didn’t tear on the crosshairs of plastic lids like paper straws, but they provided a way for people with disabilities to drink both cold and hot beverages independently without worrying about choking,  breaking their teeth, bacterial infections, and allergic reactions.

Most people no longer use straws to avoid fermentation at the top of beverages, or to avoid disease from the use of communal cups. Straws have become a modern-day convenience for most. For people with disabilities, however, single-use plastic straws are still a vital piece of assistive technology that have no current viable replacement. This simple, plastic tube is just as essential to our day-to-day lives as a bowl, fork, curb cut, elevator, or any other accommodation we have come to expect in order to be a fully inclusive, integrated society.

As straw bans continue to pass across the country, the disability community continues to be left out of the discussion even though this is the community most impacted by them. Many lawmakers have passed straw bans with the intention of still providing access to those who need plastic straws, but frequently exceptions only apply to institutions providing medical care. A lot has changed since 1870. Most people with disabilities no longer reside in institutional care. We now live integrated within our communities. We attend school, we have jobs, we go to grocery stores, we have active social lives, we go out to restaurants, and we need access to single-use plastic straws in those places.

While our lives might have changed dramatically, most of the alternatives to plastic straws haven’t. Metal, paper, glass, and even plant-based straws might be marketed as new ideas, but most of these materials have been used for straws for hundreds of years. Even in their new designed forms, they still pose the same significant health risks that contributed to single-use plastic straws being used in lieu of them.

In the 1930’s, the average lifespan of a person with a disability was 23. Today, we have a lifespan of 70, close to that of the general population. While far from the sole contributing factor, there is no doubt that single-use plastic straws have contributed to our increased lifespans. Attempts to completely ban single-use plastic straws jeopardizes those gains. Any meaningful action to reduce single use plastics must consider the needs of this often-forgotten community.

Olivia Babis is the Public Policy Analyst at Disability Rights Florida. She was born with a physical disability which necessitates the use of single-use plastic straws, and other assistive technologies, so she can live independently.