Food Safety Update

New education initiatives, research advances, E&S products and standards are all aiding channel partners' efforts to keep operators' facilities as safe from foodborne illnesses as possible.

"It seems that we must be doing something right," said John Farquharson, president of the International Food Safety Council, "because we've just received information from the Centers for Disease Control that the incidence of foodborne illness has decreased in the last year. This is the first time that a decrease has been reported since they've been keeping records," he added.

Farquharson, a former leading contract company executive, enjoyed a 38-year career with Aramark from which he retired as "executive emeritus." He then went on to found the International Food Safety Council while doing a one-year stint as the voluntary chairman of the National Restaurant Association. He is dedicated to the IFSC's mission of "heightening the awareness of the importance of food safety education," and he travels the country (and the rest of the world) speaking on behalf of proper food-handling techniques to help managers ensure the safety of their operations. Farquharson works to promote the ServSafe education and certification program, and reported, "When the council first started working with the ServSafe program in the early '90s, we were certifying about 20,000 people a year. Now, 10 years on, we're certifying about 300,000 people a year! It's great to be able to point to some positive results from our efforts."

Farquharson commented that these days, the managers that he helps to train with education and certification processes understand that their responsibilities don't end with their food safety course, and that they need to go back to their operations and work to train their employees. "We provide information and tool kits to help those who aren't professional instructors learn how to train others, providing another effective method to get the word out there on how to keep foodservice operations safe from an incidence of foodborne illness," he said.

"When the council first started working with the ServSafe program in the early '90s, we were certifying about 20,000 people a year. Now, 10 years on, we're certifying about 300,000 people a year! It's great to be able to point to some positive results from our efforts."

Currently, many manufacturers, agencies and information providers offer products and education to support and address food safety issues for members of the foodservice industry. Their challenge is in transforming research and innovative technologies into workable, affordable solutions for unit operators and their staffs.

New E&S and technology for use in foodservice operations' food safety efforts can include those used to help identify and inhibit contamination of foods from bacteria and pathogens that cause foodborne illness, products that help operators monitor HACCP compliance in their facilities and those that address potentially unsafe or unhygienic maintenance practices.

Naturally occurring foodborne pathogens have caused an estimated 5,000 deaths annually in past years in the U.S. with an estimated $35 billion in economic impact. In the current climate of political uncertainty and the heightened awareness that U.S. citizens have of possible terrorist activity against us, it is unfortunately possible to imagine the devastation that could result should an incident occur of purposeful contamination of food or water supplies. The USDA's food safety research department has been working with others to try to provide fast answers should contamination occur. For example, several universities' research departments have developed rapid and inexpensive methods to detect various foodborne bacteria, enabling swift diagnosis and treatment. Arkansas scientists have developed techniques to detect food pathogens in less than two hours. Tennessee scientists have developed methods to detect salmonella and other pathogens in livestock and poultry production environments. Nebraska food scientists have developed a genetic fingerprinting method to identify sub-populations of E. coli, which could also help trace sources of E. coli-related illnesses in event of an intentional contamination.

New technology used to help operators monitor HACCP compliance in facilities continues to improve through the potential for increased interactivity between equipment and web-based monitoring. Manufacturers have been working towards the goal of the "smart kitchen," adding controls to more equipment that can be connected to computer systems for continuous monitoring of key critical control points in food preparation, from the receiving process through service. A new, easy-to-use hand-held device could also be helpful for maintaining and documenting HACCP points through an operation's menu management program. Menus can be programmed into this device for an entire service day, including proper food temperatures and appropriate check times, to which staff can instantly refer. The device also provides a full HACCP report at the end of each day that can be downloaded into an operation's computer system.

According to the CDC, hand contamination is reduced by only 70% to 80% with the use of gloves alone. The new, molded, anti-microbial gloves may slow the growth of bacteria and other germs that can build up on the surface of a regular glove.

Simple, proper handwashing and hand hygiene remain at the forefront of preventing disease in foodservice facilities. To help operators guarantee that employees maintain an adequate hand-washing process, new handwashing technology is available that provides sinks and faucets that automatically provide water and soap for an appropriate duration. Following in a line of development of "touchless" handwashing systems is a new equipment item, a "touchless" towel dispenser, which was developed to help eliminate the potential of germs being spread from person to person unintentionally through handling of towel dispensers. The touchless towel dispenser is engineered to be a fast, hygienic option in high-volume hand-washing locations.

A new disposable glove containing anti-microbial agents, designed specifically for use in the foodservice industry, may also be helpful in reducing the occurrence of foodborne illness. Federal guidelines for food handling require workers to wear latex-free gloves, and to change them when leaving a workstation or working with a different product but, according to the CDC, hand contamination is reduced by only 70% to 80% with the use of gloves alone. The new, molded, anti-microbial gloves may slow the growth of bacteria and other germs that can build up on the surface of a regular glove, further reducing the likelihood that any contamination could be passed on to consumers via the handling of food products.

A new, hand-held device could also be helpful for maintaining and documenting HACCP points through an operation's menu management program. Menus can be programmed into this device for an entire service day.

Anti-microbial agents built into other equipment items can also be helpful to operators dealing with facility maintenance issues related to food safety. Storage shelving systems are now available protected with these agents, which help to retard the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew on the surface of the shelves that can cause stains or odors and compromise food freshness. Manufacturers do not claim that adding microbial agents to shelving units will protect stored items from disease organisms, however, and recommend that staff perform thorough cleaning of all shelves after use.

Generally, foodservice establishments operating commercial ice machines must shut them down regularly to clean and sanitize because of the growth of bacteria and microorganisms creating slime inside the machines. Simple to use, affordable new microbial technology designed to control the growth of slime in commercial ice machines is now available in the form of a drop-in "wand," that should be replaced every three months. This technology enables operators to meet sanitation regulations more easily and improve the quality of beverage products for customers, as well.

NSF International is a leader in standards development, product certification, education and risk-management for public health and safety. Updates in NSF food equipment standards, which represent a voluntary consensus between manufacturers, users and regulatory agencies, were presented at this year's NAFEM engineering conference. Changes of note for dealers and operators include new requirements in the sizing of food shields (sneeze guards), a requirement that cleaning instructions be included with the sale of wooden cutting boards, added accuracy requirements including incorporated graduation in thermometers and modified requirements for handwashing sinks. For more information or to contact the NSF, go to www.nsf.org.

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