Food Safety Training Needs at Evacuation Shelters Operated by Faith-Based Organizations

Article excerpt


Recent foodborne illness statistics show improvement in food safety in the U.S. (Scallan et al., 2011). In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated 76 million cases of foodborne illnesses had been occurring each year in the U.S., along with 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths (Mead et al., 1999). Through systematic efforts across the food safety continuum from agricultural industries to regulatory agencies, safety of food in the U.S. has improved significantly. CDC now estimates that each year in the U.S. 9.4 million foodborne illness cases, 55,961 hospitalizations, and 1,351 deaths are caused by the 31 most prevalent foodborne pathogens (Scallan et al., 2011).

As the general safety of food supplies in the U.S. improves, today's food safety researchers have focused on improving the food safety of high-risk populations or institutions where the most vulnerability exists. All food service establishments must provide food safety training to their employees and receive food safety inspections provided by local or state government officials. For nonprofit organizations such as faith-based organizations, however, where food is served by volunteers on an as-needed basis, it is difficult to enforce food safety training and therefore such organizations face additional challenges related to their ability to ensure food safety.

Over the past several decades, numerous Americans have been afflicted by natural disasters such as hurricanes, tropical storms, wild fires, and floods. The National Weather Service (NWS) of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the average number of tropical storms and major hurricanes has increased since 1851 (Blake, Rappaport, & Landsea, 2007; Webster, Holland, Curry, & Chang, 2005). In 2005, 28 reported cases of tropical storms and 15 hurricanes occurred, which included two of the most devastating hurricanes, Katrina and Rita (Blake et al., 2007). The death tolls caused by weather-related natural disasters were also significant, as 566 people died in 2008 and 366 people died in 2009 (Redmond & Griffith, 2003). Natural disasters caused a large monetary loss from crop and property damages. In 2008 and 2009, severe weather resulted in $26.5 billion and $7.5 billion worth of damages, respectively (National Weather Service [NWS], 2010a, 2010b).

The evacuees who were displaced from their homes following natural disasters experienced physical and emotional stress due to the sudden decrease in available resources and compromised living conditions (Sanders, 2007) such as limited access to showers, toilets, communal dining rooms, and long lines for services. Among the major concerns in the aftermath of the disasters were public health issues, such as the outbreak of communicable diseases (U.S. Department of Homeland Security [DHS], 2008a). Communicable diseases such as norovirus and Salmonella were reported by Hurricane Katrina evacuees (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2005a, 2005b). For 11 days after Hurricane Katrina, over 1,000 (18%) of the 6,500 visits to doctors at the Reliant Park Medical Clinic in Houston had to do with treating cases of diarrhea or vomiting (Gavagan et al., 2006); two confirmed cases of toxigenic Vibrio cholerae infections also occurred (CDC, 2006).

Compared with other groups, vulnerable populations--including individuals with HIV or immune-compromising conditions, pregnant women, infants, and individuals with diabetes and other disabilities--are more easily affected by foodborne illnesses in the event of evacuation. Researchers showed a significant association between pregnant women from hurricane-affected areas in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and the number of pregnant women giving birth to underweight babies (Callaghan et al., 2007). Statistics also showed that the majority of the Hurricane Katrina evacuees who resided in Houston shelters were lowincome, less-educated, and uninsured single minorities with children (Brodie, Weltzien, Altman, Blendon, & Benson, 2006). …