The Little Things Still Matter
Glenda Lewis, a member of the Food Protection Team at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN)
“I think the biggest issues right now are [the employee-based issues], like passing of information from the managers to the workers, knowledge on employee health and reporting when they are ill and basic training mechanisms like washing hands. Sometimes you have cultural barriers and people do not understand or they are from a country where water is a really hot commodity and they don’t use water as frequently, so they might have a hesitancy to do frequent hand washing.
I think inservice training, providing proper equipment, doing innovative training with singing songs, contests, posters or buttons—No. 1 hand washer—will also help. A lot of cultures are verbal learners, so talking about things and not just putting up posters is important.
The best way to deal with recalls is to have good records of your inventory, have a good relationship with your distributors and get signed up for the FDA’s recall notifications.
When buying local, make sure that the source is reputable and follows the FDA’s Food Codes, which are generalized standards of public health that states can adopt as a part of their food safety regulations. The health department also licenses food retailers so make sure the farm has been checked out by the health department.
I think in the next five years we’ll still be dealing with employee behavior and trying to get people to wash their hands and not come to work sick and not contacting ready-to-eat foods with their bare hands. What will continue to emerge are pathogens that we learn as we get more sophisticated reporting systems.”
From Farm to Fork
Buying locally has become more common in operations, which raises additional food safety concerns for operators.
Doug Davis, director of foodservice at Burlington (Vt.) School District, buys more than 15,000 pounds of local produce each year. Davis says the best way to ensure the safety of local produce is to visit the farms. “I deal with 13 different farms,” he says. “I visit the farms; I look at their storage and shipping. I discuss with them how I want the produce brought in to the schools. The larger farms that I deal with have walk-ins right on site. The farms don’t have refrigerated trucks, but they are only a couple of miles from the schools. You have the farmer come in to see what you’re expecting and how stuff comes in from your major purveyors. Many of these farmers don’t know how you want things done. It’s not that they aren’t able, they just don’t know.”
Davis says to start by getting a list of practices about how the food is grown and food handling and transportation procedures from the farmers so that if a food safety issue were to arise, you have practices and procedures in writing to double-check with.
Greg Black, director of residential dining at the 30,000-student University of Iowa in Iowa City, says he also visits the local farms from which the university purchases eggs. Black says he uses these visits to see how the chickens are housed and fed, how the eggs are transported and to see if there are any potential cross-contamination issues. Black adds that it’s important to buy from a reputable source to ensure food safety.
For Mary Gregiore, director of food and nutrition services at 700-bed Rush Medical Center in Chicago, the struggle to come up with a strategy to ensure the safety of locally purchased foods has made it nearly impossible for her to purchase from local farms. “We’ve said we really want that food safety responsibility to be on our vendors, so our local purchasing is somewhat limited based on what we can get from our major vendors,” Gregiore says. “There is nothing that says a local vendor would be any more or less safe than a national brand. We’ve had some major food contamination issues with national brands, so I don’t feel a local source is any more of a concern. The problem with buying local is when we buy through one of our vendors, they’ve had to certify everything, and I’ve been unwilling to assume that responsibility at this point.”