A Comparison of Perspectives about the Critical Areas of Knowledge for Safe Food Handling in Food Establishments

Article excerpt


In the United States, an estimated 24 to 81 million people become ill each year from consumption of contaminated foods. These illnesses result in an estimated 10,000 deaths each year and have an estimated cost of between $7.7 and $23 billion (1). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that many cases of foodborne illness originate from foods mishandled in food establishments, especially food retail and food service establishments (2). Foodborne illnesses that originate in food retail or food service establishments frequently occur because the food is 1) temperature abused, 2) handled with poor personal hygiene, and/or 3) inherently contaminated or exposed to some form of cross-contamination (3,4-6). Temperature abuse is the problem most often identified as a contributing factor in foodborne illness (2,4-6). Temperature abuse may consist of

* improper cooling,

* inadequate cooking or reheating,

* unsuitable thawing methods, or

* unsafe cold or hot holding practices.

In recent years, poor personal hygiene has increasingly been identified as a factor in foodborne illness, especially with the increased demand for ready-to-eat food items that come in contact with human hands. To reduce the transfer of harmful contaminants to foods, it is critical to know when and how to properly wash hands and to avoid bare hand contact with foods.

Many foods are inherently contaminated with disease-causing micro-organisms, especially foods of animal origin. Each year, red meat, poultry, and seafood products are the leading vehicles of reported cases of foodborne illness (2). Recent reports that some ready-to-eat foods, such as strawberries and raspberries, have been contaminated with viral and parasitic pathogens have raised concern about whether food is being safely handled. Food contamination is also an important factor in foodborne illness. Foods can be cross-contaminated from various sources such as human contact, contact with raw foods (especially of animal origin), and exposure to food contact surfaces (utensils, cutting boards). In addition to unclean hands, common vehicles of food contamination include soil, garbage, rodents, insects, and air.

The key to preventing and reducing foodborne illnesses associated with food establishments is educating and training food handlers (4,6). To be effective, food safety education and training must be supported by top management and at all levels of management in the food establishment. The FDA Food Code requires the "person in charge," often called a food manager, to be responsible for ensuring the safe preparation and delivery of food to the consumer (1). Ideally, food establishment managers receive food safety and sanitation training; in turn, the food manager trains employees at the food establishment, especially the front-line workers who are actively involved in handling, preparing, and serving food to the consumer.

Most food establishments are governed by state and local food codes; inspections are being carried out by personnel from local health departments or the Department of Agriculture. Although the frequency and format of food establishment inspections differ from state to state (and perhaps from county to county within each state), food codes generally have specific regulatory requirements for

* receiving, preparing, and serving foods;

* the health, cleanliness, and hygienic practices of food handlers; and

* facility design and food equipment specifications.

On a national scale, the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provide recommendations for safe handling of foods in a document called the FDA Food Code. In 1993, the 1976 version of the Food Code was revised after a gap of nearly 20 years. The FDA Food Code is now revised every two years, and the most recent FDA Food Code was published in 1997. …