The retail food industry in the United States is composed of over 1 million establishments, ranging in size from small owner-operated concessions to large multi-unit national chains.1 Regardless of the size or complexity of the operation, the on-site management of each food establishment shares a common responsibility for the prevention of foodborne illness.2 The industry response to the challenge of preventing foodborne illness has been positive. Industry representatives realize how devastating foodborne illness can be in terms of human suffering, monetary cost, unfavorable publicity, and lost consumer confidence. Food safety training has increased, and many retail operators are implementing Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) programs to better control the risk factors in their establishments. Active management control of the risk factors, which are most often associated with foodborne illness, is the best protection that can be provided to the consumer. The effectiveness of industry efforts is hampered by the high rate of employee/manager turnover and a lack of uniform, risk-based regulatory oversight.
While the overall annual cost of foodborne illness is unknown, studies indicate that it is in the billions of dollars. It has been estimated that the number of illnesses approximates 76 million, with up to 5,000 deaths.3
The regulatory program to prevent foodborne illness from foods prepared in retail establishments is a cooperative federal, state, and local effort, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the lead federal agency. State and local governments provide the largest portion of the program’s resources. They also exercise primary regulatory control over the retail segment of the food industry. FDA's ability to leverage its resources and to influence and guide the much larger investment of state and local government programs represents an effective public health partnership.
In order for this cooperative endeavor to continue and improve its effectiveness as a viable force in the government's effort to prevent foodborne illness, many aspects of the retail food program must evolve to meet the realities of shrinking budgets, international trade, new technologies, emerging pathogens, and changing consumer demographics. Budget cuts and competition for funding are forcing state and local governments to re-evaluate their retail food protection programs. In fact, some have even suggested discontinuing these programs.
This constantly changing environment dictates that FDA seek new ways to ensure that the resources expended for retail food safety are directed toward activities which produce the greatest degree of consumer protection. This National Retail Food Program Operational Plan will focus FDA's resources to reduce the risk of foodborne illness in the retail food industry.
The National Retail Food Program will be:
A coordinated, flexible public health partnership including federal, state, local, and tribal governments; academia and industry that is customer- and results-oriented and will enhance retail food safety and improve consumer protection.
The mission of the National Retail Food Team is to promote the application of science-based food safety principles to minimize the incidence of foodborne illness at retail.
- Make the most effective and efficient use of resources through participation in collaborations and partnerships.
- Establish program priorities based on the extent of actual or potential risk and public health benefit.
- Strengthen the food regulatory agencies' capability to make accurate risk assessments and sound management decisions.
- Be responsive to the needs of the Program partners.
The National Retail Food Team's goal is to provide guidance, support, and assistance to reduce the occurrence of identified risk factors that cause foodborne illness and other risks to secure safe and wholesome food.
1 As referenced in the 2001 Food Code, Preface.
2As referenced in the 2001 Food Code, Section 1-201.31, food establishments include restaurants, groceries, convenience stores, vending locations, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, caterers, etc.
3 Mead, P.S., Slutsker, L., Dietz, V., McCraig, L.F., Bresee, J.S., Shapiro, C., Griffin, P.M., Tauxe, R.V., 1999. Food-related Illness and Death in the United States. Emerg. Infect. Dis. Vol. 5, No. 5, in: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol5no5/mead.htm