By Lynn Petrak
Source: Progressive Grocer

The importance of food safety programs, protocols and personnel in food retail settings was confirmed in a new technical report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The report, focusing on grocery store deli departments, shows that retail delis with strong food safety management systems (FSMS) and an onsite certified food protection manager (CFPM) fared better in the control of risk factors linked to foodborne illness.

Findings were based on data gleaned from nearly 400 grocery deli departments between 2015 and 2016. Beyond the clear conclusion that well-developed FSMS and trained, dedicated staff are key to reducing risk, the report revealed specific strengths and vulnerabilities.

For example, the study found that retail delis had the best collective control over ensuring proper contact with ready to eat food (i.e. no bare hands) and the cooking of raw animal foods to required temperatures.

The report pinpointed three areas for improvement though: employee handwashing, proper refrigeration and proper cooling.

Another gap was the deployment of CFPMs. According to FDA’s surveillance of stores, although two thirds (66.2%) of the delis operated in areas that required a CFPM, slightly more than half had such a professional employed and present.

FDA’s report repeatedly emphasized the importance of such professionals and of formal FSMS. Delis with non-existent FSMS averaged 4.6 data items out of compliance while those with strong FDMS averaged 2.4, the data showed.

Moving forward, the findings will help FDA as it continues to modernize food safety programs and practices, including those recommended and required in grocery store delis, through its New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative. This recently-released report is a baseline report that represents the first data collection period of FDA’s 10-year study on food safety and foodborne illness risk factors in foodservice settings.