Food safety begins at the farm level long before any seeds are sown, but it doesn’t end there. It’s a process—and it’s critical that the food safety chain continues up to the moment that the consumer carries a forkful of salad to their mouth or takes a bite of a hamburger. It is just as important to grow produce under Good Agriculture Practices on the farm as it is to prepare all food using Good Handling Practices in the kitchen.
Just recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net) published some very significant findings in the December edition of the Journal of Food Protection. The research focused on restaurant safety practices in the handling and cooking of ground beef as well as the handling of leafy greens. The data collected proves there is a crucial need for restaurants to assess their food handling practices such as cleaning and sanitizing utensils and surfaces, washing hands, proper temperature monitoring, product rejection, and other basic food safety tenets.
To the average consumer, eating at any restaurant comes with a 20% risk of E. coli O157:H7 infection regardless of what’s served; 7% of that risk comes specifically from consumption of undercooked ground beef. The EHS-Net study focused on current kitchen practices in 385 restaurants throughout eight states. One particular finding showed that in 62% of the restaurants, workers handling raw ground beef did not wash their hands before handling other ready-to-eat foods or cooked ground beef.
According to the CDC, approximately 48 million people (1 in 6 Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases. The key factors that contribute to these numbers include poor growing practices, mishandling of product, and most predominantly, poor employee hygiene practices. In a Markon update to all members earlier this year, we shared data from the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal, which stated that 46.1% of illnesses between 1998 and 2008 were related to the consumption of produce. Of those produce-related illnesses, 60.5% were due to Norovirus. Norovirus is a pathogenic virus that is highly associated with contamination from food handlers, typically just prior to consumption.
A separate study that was published by the EHS-Net included discussion on Senate Bill 602 (2010 California legislation that went into effect in June 2011), which demonstrates the importance of food safety education and its success in improving handler practices. SB 602 was based on already existing legislation in counties like San Diego, whose Department of Environmental Health conducted a 2003 survey of 1,200 foodservice workers to learn about their knowledge of food safety practices as well as major violations. The study was then repeated five years later and the department found there had been a 60% decrease in food safety violations and a 50% increase in food handler knowledge. This information outlines the importance of providing greater resources aimed at educating food handlers and improving handler practices.
Markon understands the importance of safe food handling practices—it’s the 5th star in our 5-Star Food Safety Program®. Markon provides District Sales Representatives with materials to educate foodservice operators about optimal storage and handling of produce as well as hand washing tips via point-of-sale materials, posters, and our website. In food safety, education is critical; corners should never be cut when it comes to protecting public health. Always remember that maintaining a product’s food safety is the responsibility of the entire supply chain.