As it called for continued improvements in food safety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended that all restaurants and retailers employ certified food protection managers.
The recommendation — which was met with support from both the National Restaurant Association and the National Council of Chain Restaurants — came Friday as the agency released the results of a 10-year study of retail food risk factors. While the study found overall improvement, the FDA noted that the presence of a certified food protection manager was correlated with significantly higher compliance levels with food safety practices.
“In looking at the data, it is quite clear that having a certified food protection manager on the job makes a difference,” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods. “Some states and localities require certified food protection managers already, and many in the retail industry employ them voluntarily as a matter of good practice. We think it should become common practice.”
Donald Kraemer, the FDA’s acting deputy director for operations, told Nation’s Restaurant News on Friday that the agency plans to add a provision requiring restaurants to employ certified food protection managers to a future edition of the federal “FDA Model Food Code.” States, counties and cities are free to reject or adopt the Food Code in part or in its entirety. However, the FDA and industry groups like the NCCR are urging that those policies and guidelines be adopted nationwide.
Kraemer said the FDA has no timeline for adding a food protection manager provision to the Food Code, but he noted that the FDA would work to that end through normal channels involving the Conference for Food Protection, or CFP.
A public-private body, the CFP provides the FDA with input and recommendations and is made up of members of foodservice trade groups, the food industry, government, academia and consumer organizations. The group meets biennially and convenes next in 2012.
Kraemer said many questions need to be answered before establishing a Food Code policy requiring restaurants to employ food protection managers. Among them, he said, “How do you implement [such a policy] in 24-hour of operations, where you may not have critical functions happening at one time, but you may at another?”
At the last CFP meeting in April, the FDA floated a proposal to change the Food Code to require that the manager or person in charge at restaurants and retail establishments throughout the normal business day be certified in food safety practices. For some companies, including 24-hour and extended-hour restaurants, such a proposal would require multiple shifts of food protection managers per day.
The CFP balked at the FDA’s “around-the-clock” proposal, as some participants worried about the potential difficulty in finding enough certified managers or affording them. The group countered with a proposal that restaurants and retailers be required to have at least one such certified employee on staff.
“There are a lot of issues that need to be worked out and we don't pretend to have all the answers to how they best need to be worked out,” Kraemer said. “But we do think that moving toward this [on-site food protection managers] as the norm in the industry is something that we're looking for and that is what we will be working with the Conference [for Food Protection] to adopt.”
The Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Chain Restaurants and National Restaurant Association are both on board.
“The presence of a certified food protection manager is common practice in chain restaurants,” said Jack Whipple, the NCCR’s president. “We support strengthening Food Code requirements so that may be said of the industry as a whole.”
“We support restaurants having certified food safety managers, and agree with the FDA that this is an issue that should be taken up through the Conference for Food Protection,” NRA spokesman Mike Donohue said.
Donohue said 24 states currently require restaurants to have certified food protection managers. He added that in the other 26 states, some local jurisdictions may have requirements for the employment of such specialized employees, or the state may require such a hire for a specific restaurant or chain that has had food safety problems.
Taking the concept further, some states — including Oregon and, beginning next year, California — require all food handlers to undergo basic safety training and pass an exam attesting to their understanding of the coursework.
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The FDA's 10-year study of retail food risk factors found that full-service restaurants with certified food protection managers had a 70-percent compliance rate with food safety practices, compared with a 58-percent compliance rate at restaurants without such an employee. In delicatessens, compliance was 79 percent with a manager, compared with 64 percent without, the FDA said.
Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, said his agency will increase its efforts to encourage widespread, uniform and complete adoption of the FDA Model Food Code by the 3,000 state, local and tribal regulatory agencies overseeing more than one million U.S. food establishments.
The FDA also will increase efforts to have those regulatory agencies adopt the federal “National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards” to strengthen the local regulatory environment for retail food operations, Taylor said.
The NCCR supports the FDA’s Food Code quest.
“NCCR believes Congress should amend the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to require all state and local jurisdictions to adopt the FDA Model Food Code, and that state and local authorities should do so voluntarily in the meantime,” Whipple said. “Uniform national standards would ensure that all jurisdictions operate under rules that are risk-based and supported by the latest science in the interest of public health. The lack of national standards is a hindrance to improving food safety.”'
Other findings in the FDA's food safety report
The FDA’s retail food risk factors study looked at more than 800 retail food establishments, including restaurants, in 1998, 2003 and 2008. The report examined five risk factors: food from unsafe sources, poor personal hygiene, inadequate cooking, improper holding of food related to time and temperature, and contaminated food surfaces and equipment.
According to the FDA, it found overall compliance improved in all nine categories of establishments. The improvements were statistically significant in elementary schools, fast-food restaurants, full-service restaurants, meat and poultry markets and departments, and produce markets and departments. Improvements, although not statistically significant, were seen in hospitals, nursing homes, deli departments/stores and seafood markets and departments.
However, according to FDA, continued improvements are needed across the board, in regard to three risk factors: poor personal hygiene, improper holding of food, and contaminated food surfaces and equipment.
Click here to view the full report on the FDA's website.
“This report found that restaurants are getting better at meeting food safety requirements even as those standards are being strengthened,” Whipple said. “Our nation’s restaurant chains conduct extensive food safety training for their employees and have elaborate food safety systems tailored to each type of restaurant.”
Joan McGlockton, the NRA’s vice president for industry affairs and food policy, said the FDA report’s findings suggest the industry’s commitment to bettering food safety and the NRA’s role in educating the workforce are paying off.
“Today, there are 10 times more foodservice workers trained in food safety than just a decade ago – enhancing the safety for all of our customers,” she said. “We are pleased to see that the trends verify that this commitment is having a positive impact.”
Both the NRA and NCCR vowed to work with the FDA in support of continuous improvements in restaurant food safety.
The FDA’s Kraemer said his group is keen on the practice of restaurateurs and trade groups fostering the exchange of food safety best practices, such as using food protection managers, as “the goal of everybody is to reduce illness.”
“This is something you [restaurateurs] can do, that it is not a major investment, and is probably something you ought to be doing right now, regardless of whether it is mandatory or not,” he said.
Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].