FDA sets sights on retail food safety improvements

Oct 22, 2010 (CIDRAP News) – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today called for certified food protection managers to become a common presence in retail food settings, based on results of a 10-year study showing that having them made meaningful differences.

Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, recognized the retail food industry's progress in food safety but said the findings of the study revealed room for improvement.

"Some states and localities require certified food protection managers already, and many in the retail industry employ them voluntarily as a matter of good practice," he said in an FDA press release today. "We think it should become common practice."

The 2009 component of the 10-year study found that having a certified food protection manager resulted in statistically significant increases in compliance levels with food safety practices and behaviors at four facility types: restaurants, delicatessens, seafood markets, and produce markets. For example, at full-service restaurants, compliance was 70% with a manager present and 58% without.

The study included more than 800 retail establishments and looked at five risk factors: food from unsafe sources, poor personal hygiene in employees, inadequate cooking, improper food handling, and contaminated food surfaces and equipment.

Across all 10 years of the study, the FDA found improvements for all establishment categories, but these were statistically significant for only 5 of the 9 categories: elementary schools, fast food restaurants, full-service restaurants, meat and poultry markets and departments, and produce markets and departments. Though not statistically significant, improvements were also seen at the four other establishment types—hospitals, nursing homes, delicatessen stores/departments and seafood markets/departments.

Findings also revealed three risk factors that all categories needed to improve upon: poor personal hygiene, improper holding of food, and contaminated food surfaces and equipment.

Aside from calling for wider use of certified food protection managers, the FDA said it will increase efforts to encourage states, local, and tribal agencies that set food safety standards and handle inspections to adopt the FDA's Model Food Code, which recommends standards for management and personnel, food operations, and equipment and facilities. The FDA also said it would increase efforts for states, localities, and tribes to adopt the agency's National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards, which it says would enhance the local regulatory environment for retail food operations.

"The key to food safety is prevention at every step from farm to table. Food retail managers, like growers and processors, have a responsibility to reduce the risk of foodborne illness," Taylor said. "We want to build on past progress through continued collaboration with the retail industry and strengthened partnerships with state, local and tribal agencies in their standard-setting and compliance efforts."

See also:

Oct 22 FDA press release

FDA retail food safety study

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