By Amy Chang, Program Analyst, Environmental Health, Pandemic Preparedness, and Catastrophic Response, NACCHO, and Lindsay Beattie, Program Analyst, Environmental Health, Pandemic Preparedness, and Catastrophic Response, NACCHO
NACCHO staff and members presented about food safety and defense at this year’s National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) Annual Educational Conference & Exhibition in Orlando. The theme, “Imagine the New NEHA: Tools for Success Today and Making Difference Tomorrow,” showcased the new direction NEHA’s incoming Executive Director, David Dyjack, plans to take the organization. Dyjack made it clear that environmental health professionals and the organization will be more involved in the nation’s most pressing environmental health issues. His motto, “environmental health is a contact sport,” was echoed in various food safety and defense sessions, reminding attendees that passion and dedication are required to make an impact in public health.
An Integrated Food Safety System
The conference’s food safety and defense series opened with several sessions that highlighted the national effort to create an integrated food safety system in the United States. In the opening sessions, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discussed the agency’s work towards the Food Safety Modernization Act’s mandate to leverage and integrate state and local food safety systems with Federal efforts to enhance nationwide quality, consistency, and efficiency. The agency emphasized the importance of the FDA’s Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards (Retail Program Standards) to local health departments as it provides uniformity and consistency across all levels of government. The agency also recognized the challenge of communicating information and resources to the local level efficiently and effectively and are working on ways to strengthen and build communication channels. Local health department staff can support an integrated food system by joining a workgroup on the Partnership for Food Protection, a group of professionals from the federal, state, and local governments that are dedicated to developing and implementing an integrated food safety system.
Select Session Highlights
Removing the Monkey Wrench: Tips to Meet FDA Retail Program Standards
For the past several years, NACCHO and the FDA have partnered to inform participants about the benefits of the FDA Retail Program Standards and the NACCHO Mentorship Program. NACCHO and FDA staff, as well as participants of the mentorship program, talked about how the standards enhance uniformity and quality of inspection programs while improving the level of service to stakeholders. Attendees had the opportunity to network with the mentorship participants and received valuable resources such as foodborne outbreak response manuals and examples of standards policies and forms. Participants also received guidance on how to present the standards to and obtain support from upper level management.
Using FDA’s Risk Factor Study to Enhance Retail Food Safety Effectiveness
FDA’s Regional Retail Specialist, John Marcello, presented information on the agency’s plan to conduct the second FDA risk factor study. The study consists of two surveys, with the first survey focusing on full-service restaurants and fast food restaurants and the second survey focusing on retail food stores and institutional food services. The studies will look at the foodborne illness risk factors and the FDA intends to use the results to assist the agency in developing retail food safety initiatives and policies, identify work plan priorities and resource allocations, track changes in the occurrence of foodborne illnesses in retail and food service establishments, and inform recommendations to industry and regulators at all government levels. These studies are a continuation of FDA’s previous ten year risk factory study. The FDA intends to communicate the results of the new study through reader-friendly formats such as graphic one-pagers. Marcello also emphasized the shift in culture from regulators to public health practitioners at the FDA and how the shift may help reduce foodborne illnesses overall.
Food Safety Health Education Liaison Program
San Bernardino County Division of Environmental Health Services in California presented on their Food Safety Health Education Liaison Program. The program was established to assist retail food facilities that repeatedly received poor inspection results and to promote sustainable and long-term compliance to food safety regulations among restaurant staff. The health department provides participating retail food facilities with free tailored consultations, education for staff, and methods on how to attain active managerial control to ultimately improve food safety practices and their inspection results. The program was also awarded the NACCHO Model Practice Award in 2015.
Knowledge and Attitudes of Food Managers and Staff on Food Allergens
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented a study on the restaurant workforce’s baseline knowledge and attitudes on food allergens in the order to inform future educational efforts. The researchers found that managers were more knowledgeable if they serve as the point of contact for any food allergen questions raised by customers. Managers also have better attitudes towards food allergens if they received training on the subject, were younger, and managed a restaurant that serves a large number of meals. The CDC also found that servers have a better attitude towards food allergens if they had more years of formal education and if the restaurant educated servers on how to respond to customers who claim they have food allergies.
In a Nut Shell: Need to Know Food Allergen Info
This session highlighted the difference between “oral culture learners” and “print culture learners,” and how it affects education in the restaurant workforce. The session also highlighted an online course developed by University of Minnesota (UMN) that specifically targets restaurant workers about food allergens. Print culture learners generally seek out written information and facts, which is what the majority of education materials are developed as. Oral culture learners, which are the majority of restaurant workers, need messages that are compelling and include vivid examples. The material needs to allow oral culture learners to feel the impact of their behavior: the “why” and the “how” of food safety handling. Understanding the difference, UMN developed an online course, “Understanding Food Allergens.” The one hour course follows a story of a customer with food allergens and the implications of not labeling allergens, cross-contamination, and more. UMN also developed a mnemonic device to remember the top eight food allergens: Today Serve Food-allergic People with Extra Safety Measures (Tree nuts, Soy, Fish, Peanuts, Wheat, Eggs, Shellfish, Milk).
The NEHA sessions reminded attendees that reducing foodborne diseases is a winnable battle! Find more resources for the battle on NACCHO’s Food Safety webpage and learn more about attending next year’s NEHA AEC in San Antonio.