The U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards (Retail Program Standards) are designed to help food regulatory programs enhance the services they provide to the public.
This post is part of NACCHO’s Retail Program Standards blog series showcasing the progress that communities across the country have made in retail food protection. Each month, we are featuring the experiences, challenges, and successes of jurisdictions that have worked toward each standard.
All jurisdictions featured have participated in NACCHO’s Retail Program Standards Mentorship Program, which provides peer-to-peer assistance and intensive technical support to help jurisdictions conform with the standards efficiently and effectively.
Note: The eighth cohort of NACCHO’s mentorship program was recently announced. Find out who is participating here, and look out for requests for applications for the ninth cohort of mentors and mentees in early September 2019.
This month we are focusing on Standard 5: Foodborne Illness and Food Defense Preparedness and Response, and we are featuring Fairfax County Health Department:
- Shannon McKeon, Senior Environmental Health Specialist, Fairfax County Health Department, Fairfax, VA
What steps did you take to get started in your work on Standard 5?
McKeon: A self-assessment of a standard is always a great place to start. This helps identify areas where you already conform to the standard and opportunities for improvement. A strong, written policy is the foundation of any program, so we began our work on Standard 5 with the development of a foodborne illness investigation standard operating procedure (SOP). It was helpful to benchmark other programs that have passed a verification audit of Standard 5, first. We were able to use the SOP of another jurisdiction to serve as the framework for the creation of an SOP that was specific to the personnel and procedures in our own jurisdiction.
What was your biggest challenge in working toward Standard 5, and how have you worked to overcome that challenge?
McKeon: Our biggest challenge was creating a data collection tool that would collect all of the information needed to run an assessment of the state of foodborne illness in our jurisdiction. We worked to overcome the challenge by engaging our Department of Information Technology (DIT) team to assist with the creation of an electronic database. We also created data collection forms that would allow our environmental health specialists to easily collect and document the needed information while in the field conducting an investigation. A few staff members were designated to enter foodborne illness information into the database to reduce discrepancies. These same staff also analyzed the data and provided feedback for improvements on the system.
What outcomes and benefits came out of working on Standard 5?
McKeon: Working on Standard 5 led to a clearer delineation of roles and responsibilities between environmental health staff and our partners, like the laboratory, epidemiology team and public safety officials. Having defined roles and operating procedures removed obstacles from a coordinated outbreak investigation, with clear procedures now outlined in the SOP. Additionally, the analysis of the information collected for the foodborne illness database allows our program to have a better understanding of the occurrence of foodborne illness in our jurisdiction, as well as potential contributing factors. This information informs our decisions on the application of targeted interventions aimed at reducing the risk factors for foodborne illness in Fairfax County.
How do you sustain momentum in your work on Standard 5?
McKeon: Engaging staff in assisting with conformance to the standard was instrumental in keeping momentum going with our work on Standard 5. The requirements of the standard were shared with all staff early in the process so that future efforts toward conforming to the standard would be understood by all stakeholders. Staff members that were interested in participating in the work on Standard 5 were identified and assisted with the development and maintenance of the SOP and the database, as well as the analysis of the foodborne illness data. Staff engagement helped to aid in clarity around new procedures, investment in initiatives aimed at the reduction of foodborne illness risk factors, and a shared sense of accomplishment with meeting the standard.
What tips do you have for other jurisdictions working toward Standard 5?
McKeon: For anyone looking to begin working on Standard 5, I recommend looking for resources from other jurisdictions who have had success with the whole standard or one aspect of the standard. FoodSHIELD is a great resource for shared documents and tools related to the Retail Program Standards. I also recommend enrolling in NACCHO’s mentorship program. In this program, a jurisdiction with experience with Standard 5 can walk you through working towards meeting the standard, in whole or in part.
Ed. Note: The FoodShield Mentorship Program Workgroup is a good resource to research quality assurance forms and policies from multiple agencies; however, only mentorship program participants can access this workgroup. For others interested in viewing jurisdictions’ policies and forms, sign up for the FDA Retail Program Standards Workgroup on FoodSHIELD or view examples on NACCHO’s website.
How has your work on the Retail Program Standards overall affected your community in terms of public health outcomes?
McKeon: The Standards define best practices in a regulatory food program. Conformance with the Standards demonstrates our department’s commitment to excellence and partnership with industry toward the common goal of a safer, healthier community. Achievement of the Standards also allows for increased quality and efficiency of work and allows our department to align with a national standard of performance. As our regulatory program becomes more effective and focused through the guidance of the Standards, our community is better served.
Stay tuned for the next post, which will focus on Standard 6: Compliance and Enforcement, coming in March.
Contact Amy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.