The History of NACCHO’s Retail Program Standards Mentorship Program
Did you know that that each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die in the United States? Or that 60% of foodborne illness outbreaks occur at restaurants?  Given the gravity of the situation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implemented the Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards (Retail Program Standards) to support retail food regulatory agencies in preventing foodborne illnesses and deaths in local communities across the United States. The Retail Program Standards help provide the restaurant industry with the foundation for the continuous improvement of food safety regulatory programs by advancing processes driving the way foods are prepared and served within the nation’s food industry.
Through a cooperative agreement with the FDA, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) established a mentorship program in 2012 to support retail food regulatory programs in implementing the Retail Program Standards. The program provides peer-to-peer assistance and intensive technical support to ensure entities facilitate the standards efficiently and effectively. Experienced retail food regulatory program staff advise newer agency representatives on how to get started, overcome challenges, and best apply the Retail Program Standards to further their food protection programs. Participants also gain insight on developing and implementing policies and procedures, completing self-assessments, and conducting verification audits. Since inception, over $1.4 million have been invested in the mentorship program, which has been used to provide 124 awards to retail regulatory food programs. This program has also experienced continued growth. As a result, participants now include local health departments from all across the nation. Compared to the inaugural cohort of nine local health departments, the program has nearly tripled in size, now engaging 31 agencies in the sixth and most recent cohort.
Impact of the Mentorship Program
The mentorship program has been a tremendous success. Based on participants’ final reports from Cohorts 1 through 5, all mentees made significant progress towards their work plans’ goals and objectives. Common work plan items included meeting components of standard(s); meeting a specific standard; or conducting a self-assessment, developing improvement plans, and conducting verification audits.
In 2017, NACCHO administered a survey of participants in the first five cohorts of the mentorship program to document their experiences, benefits, and outcomes of the program. The survey consisted of overarching questions on the impact of the FDA’s Retail Program Standards on their health department and questions on their experiences during the mentorship program and working with NACCHO and FDA staff. Of the 63 individuals who received the survey, 43 responded (67%).
In the survey, all participants answered that they either “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” that the mentorship program has stimulated quality and performance improvement opportunities within their agency and helped their agency better identify strengths and weaknesses in its retail food program. When asked if the mentorship program helped their agency better communicate with their Board of Health or governing entity regarding the retail food program, 84% responded that they “Strongly Agree” or “Agree.” More than half of the participants answered that they “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” that the mentorship program helped their agency meet a Public Health Accreditation Board requirement. All participants stated that NACCHO staff provided helpful guidance, resources, and materials during the program.
Other survey results found that 86% of respondents reported that their agency has continued working on the standards since the mentorship program ended and 88% stated that their agency has used resources and contacts from the mentorship program to continue work on the standards.
When asked if making progress on or achieving the Retail Program Standards helped them identify retail food program areas in which their agency can have the greatest impact on retail food safety, 95% of the participants answered that they “Strongly Agree” or “Agree.” In addition, 88% of participants responded that they “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” that their staff were able to promote wider application of effective risk-factor intervention strategies in their agency. All participants stated that the Retail Program Standards assisted their agency in identifying retail food program areas in need of additional attention.
The results of the survey and final progress reports from the first five cohorts illustrate that the NACCHO mentorship program has successfully increased local health departments’ participation in and conformance with the Retail Program Standards. The benefits of the mentorship program extend well beyond the mentorship program period for many of the participants. The program has also met the FDA’s goal of strengthening the role of local health departments’ regulatory programs, which protect retail food in the United States.
Apply for the Newest Cohort!
NACCHO is continuing to partner with the FDA to administer the mentorship program. In the sixth cohort, NACCHO opened the program to all retail food regulatory programs, including the addition of state, territorial, and tribal programs. NACCHO recruited the seventh cohort in the fall of 2017.
Read more about the impact of the NACCHO Mentorship Program in the following report: http://www.naccho.org/programs/environmental-health/hazards/food-safety/mentorship