Food safety remains top priority

Paperwork, food inspections make food safety more time-consuming.

Food safety is still very much top of mind for most operators, according to The Big Picture. Half of the respondents to our survey indicated that they are more concerned about food safety now than they were five years ago, and 46% say they are just as concerned now.

“We’ve always been concerned with food safety, but with the globalization of food sourcing, especially meats and spices and some produce, it becomes more and more challenging to enforce and monitor any kind of food safety protocol,” says Therese O’Connor, manager of training and staff development for Campus Life at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y. 

Michael Rosenberger, foodservice director for the Irving Independent School District, in Texas, believes much of the increased concern is the result of the media. “There seems to be much more media coverage of food safety issues than in years past,” he suggests. “With the increased media coverage comes an increase in overall concern about food safety.”

But he adds that school foodservice professionals in general are not more concerned than in years past because “it’s always been a No. 1 concern of ours. Protecting students has to be top of the list.”

Jeremy Manners, culinary and nutrition director for West Haven Manor, a long-term care facility, in Apollo, Pa., agrees. “In healthcare you can’t afford to take anything for granted,” Manners says. “Food safety always has to be a top priority in this business.”

Al Caldiero, director of food and nutrition services at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York, says he’s more concerned about food safety because he fears that producers aren’t being as vigilant. “There is a growing worldwide demand for food caused by emerging Third World markets like China and India,” he says. “I worry that competition to get to market first is causing growers and manufacturers to take shortcuts.”

When it comes to time spent on food safety, the great majority of respondents say they spend more time today than they did five years ago, with very few operators saying they spend less time today than they have in the past (3%). 

“I would say we spend more time,” says Cathy Graham, foodservice director for Pewaukee Schools, in Wisconsin. “There is a lot more paperwork required now than when I started in the business 21 years ago.”

But paperwork isn’t the only aspect of food safety that has changed.

“We spend much more time dealing with food safety—everything from hand washing protocols to the many, many recalls of food,” O’Connor says. “Monitoring temperatures and inspecting food deliveries are big challenges for us now.” She adds that 80% of Dining Service’s full-time staff and 50% of student staff are trained through the National Environmental Health Association’s ANSI certification programs. 

Only a few operators spend less time now on food safety than five years ago. Those in long-term care facilities (8%) and hospitals (4%) are the most likely to report this. Technology is one reason operators say they can spend less time on food safety now. “Because of technology, we can know almost immediately about a food recall or outbreak of foodborne illness and can react more quickly,” says Caldiero, who adds that food safety training still takes roughly the same amount of time today as it always has. 

Improper Hand Washing Top Food Safety Worry

Operators’ top two food safety concerns are poor hand washing or other lapses on the part of staff and improper temperature controls. Operations with annual food and beverage purchases of $5 million or more were significantly more likely to report poor hand washing as a top food safety concern (60%) than locations with lower annual purchases (46%). Hospitals were significantly more likely to report concern about improperly cleaned equipment/workspaces (30%) than the other segments (15%). Cross contamination was college operators’ top food safety concern, at 52%. The other food safety concern mentioned most often by respondents was food allergies.

Food Safety Concerns

The majority of operators report they devote more time to food safety now than they did five years ago. Operators at contracted-managed locations were significantly more likely than those at self-operated facilities to say they devote more time now to food safety (81% versus 71%). 

With 73% of operators spending more time on food safety today, it should not be surprising that 96% are more or just as concerned about food safety as they were five years ago. Furthermore, only five or less respondents in each segment were less concerned about food safety than they were five years ago.