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Top Foodborne-Illness Risk Factors Pinpointed   Date: Friday 16 December, 2005
News Summary:
FDA study cites industry's weakness and strengths regarding food safety
A study released by the Food and Drug Administration zeroes in on compliance areas that need the most attention in dining establishments, including restaurants, institutional operations and retail stores.

News Content:
A study released by the Food and Drug Administration zeroes in on compliance areas that need the most attention in dining establishments, including restaurants, institutional operations and retail stores.

“The project is not designed to support
comparisons of fast-food restaurants or chains of grocery stores,” the report states. “It is intended to establish a baseline against which industry and regulatory efforts to change behaviors and practices directly related to foodborne illness will be measured.”

Based on some 17,500 observations at 900 facilities, the research concludes that the most overlooked risk factors are # 1 improper holding times and temperatures, # 2 cross contamination and # 3 poor personal hygiene.

According to the report, cold-holding—maintaining a temperature of 41F—is the most common temperature infraction at the majority of operations observed (21% to 54% depending on facility). Improper holding time and temperature occur most frequently at full-service restaurants (63.2%), with rapid cooling—bringing the temperature down to 41F in six hours—a frequent violation.

Failure to clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces is prevalent in food establishments across the spectrum, but is especially problematic in full-service restaurants (43.6%). Separation of raw animal foods and ready-to eat-foods also is disregarded more often at full-service restaurants than at other dining establishments.
Poor personal hygiene is another significant concern in full-service restaurants, with 53.4% out of compliance. Lack of handwashing accounts for 30% to 45% of personal hygiene shortcomings at all facilities, with bare-hand contact a particular problem in schools, as well as full-service and fast-food restaurants.

On the positive side, the study found that two areas—foods from unsafe sources and inadequate cooking—do not require additional attention.

Apart from listing transgressions, the FDA can only offer recommendations, which it did, albeit modest ones. It suggests that operations develop and implement standard operating procedures to address risk factors, as well as provide training, equipment, resources and supplies needed to implement them. Monitoring must focus on the most critical processes and practices, with routine checks to assess the effectiveness of SOPs.

The FDA calls on state and local regulatory agencies to establish uniform requirements and focus more on inspection and documentation.

In the near future, the FDA hopes to implement studies to identify risk factors that lead to foodborne illness in specific products and compare the effectiveness of various intervention strategies. We wait anxiously.

Why should you care?
Without passing a single new law or hiring any additional government inspectors, foodborne illness could be reduced substantially if food
establishments made it a priority to train their people in the proper safe food handling and preparation procedures.

There is no escape, no excuse. Food establishments must lead the way in the education and training of key personnel. It’s more than evident that city, county and state health departments cannot keep pace and are only concentrating on blatant violations. The retail food establishment has to police itself. And this is one of the problems. It’s not being accomplished. The investment of time and money spent will result in a phenomenal return for everyone.
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