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March 17, 2003

Purdue, IU, food industry unveil national food safety program

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The first comprehensive, up-to-date food safety training program designed specifically for retail food stores nationwide was launched today, (Monday, 3/17) at the Food Safety Summit Meeting in Washington, D.C., by the researchers from Purdue and Indiana universities who developed the program.

Richard Linton, Purdue food science professor, and David McSwane, IU associate professor of public and environmental affairs, along with independent writer Nancy Rue, collaborated to write a textbook and training program for managers and workers in grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, superstores and any retail store that sells food to consumers.

"This training program for the retail food store industry is important because many states require that at least one person from each food establishment must pass a nationally recognized food safety certification exam," Linton said. "This is a major step in having uniform training to ensure food safety."

The authors used the Food and Drug Administration Model Food Code as a basis for the main text in "SuperSafeMark®: Retail Best Practices and Guide to Food Safety and Sanitation." They also worked with the Food Marketing Institute and many of its members in the retail food industry to ensure that the training program was appropriate for the intended audience of retail food store managers and food handlers. The institute represents food retail and wholesale companies around the world and conducts research, education, industry relations and public affairs on their behalf.

The book covers everything from how food contamination occurs and how to prevent it, to information about varying state and local regulations relating to food handling. In the book, the authors write that bacteria and viruses cause most food-borne illness. In retail food stores, these diseases can result when:

• food is improperly cooked;

• food is kept at temperatures that aren't cold enough or hot enough to prevent pathogen growth;

• employees infected by a pathogen don't use proper personal hygiene when handling food;

• food that is contaminated comes in contact with uncontaminated food;

• food is obtained from unsafe sources, such as meat processing facilities that don't use proper sanitary procedures;

• utensils, counters, cutting boards, slicers, etc., which have not been properly cleaned and sanitized, are used for preparing food.

Joe Lackey, president of the Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association, said that this training program is essential to protect people from food-borne illness and to help standardize the way food is handled in stores all over the country.

"This program allows us to have a standard-gauge track to run on nationwide," said Lackey, whose organization is the state branch of the Food Marketing Institute. "This will enable our trainers and managers to be more mobile, to move from state to state and use the same training in food handling."

The importance of educating retail store food handlers about ways to prevent contamination is underscored by several factors. Food-borne illness is responsible for an estimated 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most outbreaks of food-borne illness occur in facilities that prepare, serve and sell food to the public, including retail food stores, which employ 3.5 million people.

Linton said Extension offices, such as the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, now will use the program to train people to become certified food handlers. Though not every state requires a training program before retail food handlers take one of the four nationally recognized certification exams, Lackey said that most of the 26,000 retail food stores that are members of the Food Marketing Institute will use the program. He also said that many stores probably will have more than one certified food handler if they have a number of departments that handle and/or prepare food.

"This kind of training is important, even for the people who are unloading trucks on the store dock," Lackey said. "They need to know things, such as you can't leave a crate of eggs sitting out on the dock because it can become contaminated."

This is an example of a point made in the book: "Many types of food contamination can cause illness without changing the appearance, odor or taste of food."

The 433—page book, published by Prentice-Hall, contains numerous cartoon-like illustrations and photographs to aid in explaining the dangers of food contamination and the steps needed to avoid it.

"We wanted the book to be easy to follow – entertaining as well as educational," Linton said.

The training program also includes a supervisor's guide for department-level managers, a quick reference guide for food handlers, a trainer's kit to aid in effectively teaching the program, and CD-ROMs containing PowerPoint slides and posters that can be customized. The materials also are available in Spanish.

For information on ordering the materials call (800) 922-0579 or go online.

The Food Safety Summit Meeting (March 17-18) includes a two-day workshop to educate food safety professionals to effectively use the SuperSafeMark® materials to train retail food managers and handlers. Linton and McSwane will be the instructors.

Five other "train the trainer" workshops will be held from May through August. They are scheduled for: May 13-14 in Dallas, May 20-21 in Atlanta, July 8-9 in Worcester, Mass., Aug. 26-27 in Pittsburgh, and a yet to be announced session in mid-summer in California.

Writer: Susan Steeves, (765) 496-7481, ssteeves@purdue.edu

Sources: Richard Linton, (765) 494-6481, linton@purdue.edu

Joe Lackey, 1-800-222-4742, igcsa@ix.netcom.com

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/

Related Web sites:
Purdue Center for Food Safety Engineering
Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association
Food Marketing Institute
Indiana State Department of Health Food Protection Program


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