The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) National Retail Food Team has released a report on trends in food safety practices in nine different types of foodservice and retail food establishments. The analysis focuses on the detection of trends over a 10-year study period from 1998-2008 to determine what progress has been made toward the goal of reducing the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors in these facility types. The following questions and answers may help provide a better understanding of the report and its contents.
1. What is the purpose of the trend analysis report?
In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initiated a three-phase, 10-year study to measure the occurrence of practices and behaviors commonly identified by the Center for Disease and Prevention (CDC) as contributing factors in foodborne illness outbreaks. In each phase of the Study, compliance data was collected during visits by FDA personnel to roughly 850 foodservice and retail food establishments to observe and document such practices and behaviors. The FDA Trend Analysis Report on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Selected Institutional Foodservice, Restaurants, and Retail Food Store Facility Types (1998-2008) presents the results of the examination of data from three collections over the ten-year period. The analysis focuses on the detection of trends over the study timeframe to determine what progress has been made toward the goal of reducing the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors at retail.
2. What does the trend analysis report reveal?
The Trends Report reveals that there has been improvement in compliance with important food safety requirements in foodservice and retail establishments, but that there is still much progress needed in the control of certain risk factors to adequately prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness. In five out of the nine facility types, the overall improvement in compliance was considered statistically significant:
- Elementary Schools;
- Fast Food Restaurants;
- Full Service Restaurants;
- Meat and Poultry Markets/Departments, and
- Produce Markets/Departments.
In two facility types (Meat and Poultry Markets/ Departments and Produce Markets/Departments), targets set by FDA for improved compliance percentages were achieved. Progress was made in areas in which increased regulatory emphasis was recently made, such as minimizing bare hand contact with ready to eat foods. Findings also suggest the following key practices and procedures need further improvement in foodservice and retail facilities:
- Effective hand washing by employees who prepare and serve food;
- No bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods;
- Cold storage of foods that require temperature control for safety;
- Timely disposal of refrigerated ready-to-eat foods that have reached the end of their safe storage period;
- Proper cleaning and sanitizing of food equipment and food contact surfaces.
3. How is the trend report different from the previous stand alone reports?
FDA conducted a 10-year Retail Risk Factor Study to help the food safety community better understand what impact recent efforts to improve retail food safety practices have on a national scale. Observational data collected in retail and foodservice establishments across the United States in 1998, 2003, and 2008 have been presented in three separate reports that are available on FDA’s website (www.fda.gov/RetailFoodProtection). FDA analyzed the data from these three reports to detect improvement or regression trends over the ten-year period. The data in this Trend Report suggest that the control of certain foodborne illness risk factors improved over the 10-year period in most facility types, but that compliance with important requirements in the FDA Food Code needs improvement in order to adequately prevent foodborne illness outbreaks, including those related to personal hygiene, food holding times and temperatures, and equipment sanitation.
4. What does FDA plan to do with the results of the study?
FDA will continue to promote more complete and widespread adoption of the FDA Food Code by the State, local and tribal agencies that regulate retail food establishments. FDA will work with the industry to encourage more active managerial control of food safety hazards and to promote assessment of their facilities to ensure the proper procedures, training and monitoring exists to achieve control of the foodborne illness risk factors at retail. FDA will also continue to promote adequate training and certification of facility personnel, including a deliberate move towards increased use of certified food protection managers as common practice.
5. Why do the stand alone reports highlight “out of compliance” percentages and the trend report highlights “in compliance” percentages?
The stand alone reports were designed to highlight risk factors and data items that are in need of priority attention. The most efficient way to do this was to report the data in terms of OUT of compliance. When giving guidance to regulators and industry the OUT of compliance percentage was easy to understand. The higher the OUT of compliance percentage the greater the need for priority attention.
The Trend report was designed to highlight improvement or regression in data items, risk factors and facility types. For this purpose using IN compliance percentages is a more natural choice. An increase implies improvement and decreases imply regression. Had we used OUT of compliance percentages then a decrease would signal improvement and an increase would signal regression. This would have caused confusion.