Food Safety Is Critical to Public Health

Foodborne illnesses cost over $50 billion each year and they can lead to other long term health effects.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year roughly 48 million Americans (one in six) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne illnesses.  Foodborne illnesses are caused by consuming food or drinks that are contaminated by debris, germs, parasites or toxins.

There are 5 primary risk factors that cause foodborne illnesses.

#1 - Food from Unsafe Sources.  Food coming from an unknown origin can be dangerous because the foods are likely from a place that is not set up with adequate food safety controls.  All foods served to the publich should be from inspected facilities from farm to fork.

#2 - Inadequate Cooking Temperatures.  Perhaps the food was not fully cooked;

#3 - Improper Holding Temperatures.  Poor refrigeration or foods left out at room temperature are conditions that allow germs to grow rapidly.

#4 - Contaminated Equipment.  Even the simplest errors in food handling can cause someone to get a foodborne illness, and when this happens to two or more people, it is called a foodborne outbreak. 

#5 - Poor Personal Hygiene.  Perhaps someone who handled the food was sick or had germs on their hands. 

NET Health works together with the community to reduce these known risk factors in foods and beverages served to the public.  The two primary ways this is performed is through Education and Risk Based Inspections of all Retail Food Service Operations.

Educating food handlers is the best way to protect the public, food handlers themselves, and their families. Properly trained food handlers can improve food safety and reduce risks and behaviors commonly associated with foodborne illness and outbreaks.  Training Is Required by law in Texas. That means that employees may not handle food without valid proof of training. In addition, food handlers need to keep their food handler cards current by renewing them at legally defined intervals. Well-trained Food Handlers Are More Valuable Employees. Through training, food handlers gain important knowledge and skills that not only protect the public, themselves and their families from illness, but prepare them to take advantage of opportunities for thousands of jobs available in the foodservice industry.  Employers who are hiring staff see well-trained food handlers as more desirable and more valuable employees. 

Risk Based Inspections.  Inspectors focus their inspections on assessing the degree of active managerial control an operator has over the foodborne illness risk factors. By focusing inspections on the control of foodborne illness risk factors, inspectors can be assured that they are making a great impact on reducing foodborne illness.

Active Managerial Control means the purposeful incorporation of specific actions or procedures by industry management into the operation of their businesses to attain control over foodborne illness risk factors. It embodies a preventive rather than reactive approach to food safety through a continuous system of monitoring and verification.

Developing and implementing food safety management systems to prevent, eliminate, or reduce the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors is recommended to achieve active managerial control. Regulatory inspections and follow-up activities must be proactive by using an inspection process designed to evaluate the implementation of Food Code interventions and the degree of active managerial control that retail and foodservice operators have over foodborne illness risk factors. The five Food Code interventions below were new interventions introduced with the 1993 FDA Food Code and they are just as important today as they were in 1993. They encompass a wide-range of control measures specifically designed to protect consumer health:

  • Demonstration of Knowledge
  • Implementation of Employee Health Policies
  • Hands as a Vehicle of Contamination
  • Time/Temperature Relationships
  • Consumer Advisory.

When Food Code interventions are not being implemented or if behaviors, activities, or procedures likely to cause foodborne illness are observed, inspectors should verify that the operator takes immediate corrective action so that consumers do not become sick or injured. Observations made on the day of the inspection, as well as information gained about the behaviors, activities, and procedures that occur at other times, allow inspectors to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the food safety management system that is in place.

An operator should be made aware of the inspectional findings both during, and at the conclusion of, the inspection and strategies for achieving compliance in the future should be discussed. Corrective actions taken during the inspection and repeat violations should be noted on the inspection report. Repeat violations should trigger further compliance and enforcement actions.

The inspection process is also an opportunity to educate the operator on the public health reasons supporting the Code requirements. If operators are afforded the chance to ask questions about general food safety matters, they may clearly understand the public health significance of non-compliance.

Lastly, if the operator demonstrates a history of violations related to foodborne illness risk factors, the inspection process can be used to assist the operator with implementing long-term control systems to prevent those risk factors from occurring in the future.

Food Code > FDA Food Code 2009: Annex 5 - Conducting Risk-based Inspections

Although a retail and food service operator has the responsibility for establishing a food safety management system for controlling foodborne illness risk factors, inspectors have a vital, multi-faceted role in consumer protection. It is essential that inspectors are provided with the proper training, equipment, time, and resources to adequately perform their jobs.

The primary role of inspectors is to ensure that the operator has effective control of foodborne illness risk factors. Once inspectors have established a dialogue with the person in charge and employees, conducted a menu/food list review, and established a dialogue with the person in charge, inspectors will have enough information to mentally place menu items into one of the three process flows. The inspection can then focus on assessing the operator's active managerial control of foodborne illness risk factors associated with each process.

Once out-of-control foodborne illness risk factors are identified, the role of inspectors shifts to assisting the operator with strengthening the existing food safety management system through intervention strategies designed to achieve immediate and long-term compliance. With inspector's assistance, a retail and food service operator can achieve long-term behavioral change resulting in a reduction in risk factor occurrence and an increase in public health protection.