Food Safety Manager Certification is part of the FDA Food Code, food handler certificates are currently required in a few states, and health departments conduct inspections at various intervals. While all of this helps reinforce good food safety practices, outbreaks still occur. Some outbreaks come from foods tainted before receipt at your food service facilities while some are related to lapses in good food safety behaviors.
Recent articles and studies have been addressing good food safety practices, and earlier in October I attended the National Restaurant Association Quality Assurance Executive Study Group (NRAQA) in Philadelphia where the focus was Back to Basics.
Presentations focused on the fact that good food safety practice has to be more than “just do it.” Frank Yiannas, Vice President of Food Safety at Wal-Mart and author of Behavior = Food Safety, focused on the importance of building a culture that includes food safety and cleanliness. Another speaker defined culture as “what happens when nobody is looking.” Hal King, President and CEO of Public Health Innovations LLC, discussed Active Managerial Control which is a system to aid managers or persons-in-charge focus staff behaviors and procedures to minimize food safety risks including corrective actions.
A lot of emphasis was placed on the importance of handwashing—a vital barrier to the spread of microorganisms. In each operation, it was stressed to set up methods to monitor for frequency of handwashing as well as the educational component of what behaviors must always be followed by handwashing. Discussions took place around outbreaks that in some cases might have been prevented or minimized by thorough and regular handwashing, such as norovirus and Hepatitis A, or by other basic food safety behaviors such as complete cooking, such as Salmonella.
One thought that stuck with me was about highly susceptible populations and the fact that in most of the food service community we cannot identify these individuals simply by looking. Restaurants serve “high risk” people every day. While the Food Code provides specifics for serving preschoolers, pregnant women, older adults and those who are immune compromised, it is in the context of specialized service for them such as daycare centers, senior living, hospitals, etc. While we can certainly pick out small children, we cannot tell by simply looking at people whether they have heart disease, cancer, a transplant, are pregnant or have other conditions that may compromise their immune system.
So think about how you are reinforcing food safety on a regular basis and promoting a culture of safety. It might just be time to review and reinforce some of the basics such as handwashing, preventing cross-contamination, not working while ill and proper heating and cooling.