Overlooked Food Safety Issues
By Cindy Rice, RS, CP-FS, MSPH Eastern Food Safety
Despite our best efforts at keeping foods delicious and safe, some problem areas are commonly overlooked in our food establishments that can threaten safety of our foods, customers, and even employees. When staff are busy and challenged with time constraints, financial resources, lack of training and language barriers, good practices can slip between the cracks. Speaking at the FDA Northeast Food Protection Conference in September 2019, Retail Food Specialist Steven Natrass said that food safety is not something that just happens, or mere common sense. It’s a decision to adopt a food safety culture at work- a combination of Active Managerial Controls and team efforts to putting good food safety practices in place that keep foods safe.
We are all disturbed by the recent case of a restaurant manager in Massachusetts who died as a result of a chemical accident at his workplace. Somehow, two strong chemicals came in contact with each other, creating toxic fumes, and the manager was overcome as he tried to squeegee the dangerous substances off the floor and out of the kitchen. He succumbed to those fumes quickly and died shortly after at the hospital. Was this because of a lack of training? Misunderstanding about the chemicals’ concentration or usage? Could this have been avoided by consulting the products’ Safety Data Sheets, and the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for chemical hazard communications, as required by OSHA? Chemical safety is just one issue that is often overlooked by busy operators.
A recent study of local produce farmers by Elizabeth Bihn of Cornell University found that many farmers believed that food safety was “common sense,” yet more than half of them had no food safety training (e.g., Good Agricultural Practices or formal safety training.) Many had never heard of third party audits and thought they were not necessary as long as they were selling directly to consumers. Foodborne risks include dangerous, and sometimes deadly, microscopic organisms such as pathogenic strains of E. coli and Salmonella, which can contaminate the food. This can happen if farmworkers (including farm owners, their families, or friends) don’t wash their hands before picking or packing, or if water sources are contaminated.
Every operator should understand the food safety dangers in their own operation, and realize the areas that might be ignored in your facility and the reasons why. Only by identifying these factors can we apply good practices and reduce these dangers.
Over the next year, we will be detailing commonly overlooked food safety issues in restaurants, a different one every month. We will describe the dangers of each issue, the reasons why these gaps often occur, and suggest some best practices to prevent these issues from being overlooked in your food establishment. It’s in everyone’s best interest to pay attention to the often overlooked and underestimated food safety risks in your facility, day after day. It’s critical for your customers and staff, and, ultimately, for your business too.