By: Jeff Rebh

The Food and Drug Administration has the primary role in ensuring the nation’s food supply is safe. In December 2010, Congress enacted the Food Safety Modernization Act which changed many of the regulatory structures designed to protect the public from food borne illnesses. In addition, it also updated the FDA authority to regulate foods. These efforts were designed to prevent food borne outbreaks from occurring within the food industry. 

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., Commissioner of Food and Drugs, says food borne illnesses strike an average of 48 million Americans each year, hospitalizing a hundred thousand and killing thousands. To counter these outbreaks, new methods of food safety are being practiced within the food industry.

Food establishments work adamantly to ensure the safety of their products for their customers. However, in light of recent outbreaks additional precautions have taken place to ensure the accuracy of food safety standards. 

The 2015 Chipotle incidents have been thrust into the spotlight after there were two outbreaks of the Norovirus; a contagious virus that causes inflammation in the stomach and intestines. The virus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States boasting between 19-21 million illnesses, 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations, and 570-800 deaths according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Each outbreak involved a single restaurant in Simi Valley, CA and Boston, MA respectively. Immediately following this outbreak were the Salmonella cases in Minnesota and Wisconsin where a reported 64 people were exposed to the bacteria via a batch of tomatoes served in 22 Chipotle restaurants. 

In response Chipotle Founder, Steve Ells, worked with elite food safety experts to design a comprehensive food safety program that dramatically reduces health risks on the brand’s farms, supply chains and restaurants. His emphasis: high-resolution testing, blanching, sanitation, and most importantly, packaging.

Foodservice packaging has helped protect public health by safely delivering and administering both hot and cold foods. The industry continues to evolve as new demands for increased precaution in food safety sweep the nation. Last year marked the first time where food and drink sales at restaurants surpassed those at traditional grocery stores, says the Foodservice Packaging Institute (FPI). 

To compete alongside the ever-changing demands and standards of the foodservice landscape, the FPI released a series of four free resource guides that provide detailed information about foodservice packaging. These resources serve as a Q&A guide for many of the concerns the FPI received regularly from service operations and conscientious consumers. 

The resource guides cover the following topics:

The Benefits Guide: depicts why the packaging is a sensible solution and addresses the importance of sanitation. It also covers how foodservice packaging can be cost effective and convenient for operators and consumers. 

The Environmental Guide: promotes the industry’s dedication to the environmentally responsible manufacture and distribution of its products. 

The Operators Guide: contains all the packaging resources the FPI offers to operators. It includes a link to download the FPI Strategic Sourcing Guide that takes operators through the details to help organize their packaging purchase decisions.

The Sanitization Guide: provides useful dos and don’ts about storing and handling foodservice packaging in the most sanitary way.

But food safety sanitation isn’t only practiced in terms of the actual food. Eugene Fuller, store manager for Chick-fil-A in Atlanta, speaks on the importance of dish sanitation as well. “Store cleanliness starts in the equipment and those practices are later transferred to the food,” he says. “You’ve got to make sure that your knives, cutting boards, pans, and storage areas are clean.” 

According to the 2011 Consumer Knowledge of Home Food Safety Practices Survey, 24% of Americans report that they do not properly separate raw meats from ready-to-eat foods which can cause food poisoning. “In order to maintain sound food safety practices, you have to have well trained staff members and accountable leadership to really enforce those methods,” says Fuller. “Someone has to own those efforts, otherwise your staff will get lazy.”

Another concern in food safety is how to properly prevent the spread of food allergies and the products that are used with them. 

Many kitchen staff members are being provided with written information that details how they should manage a food-allergy request including preparation and delivery. “There are specific tools used strictly for common allergy products such as nut products and they are separated from the other foods on the line to prevent cross contamination,” says Margarette Moore, general manager of Tropical Smoothie Cafe in Charlotte, NC.

Additionally, restauranteurs often review new dishes — their flavors, ingredients, and most importantly, the allergens included with them. Kitchen managers now push teaching front-end and back of the house staff on their establishment’s allergy plan and how to deviate from standard recipes when working with customers with food allergies. 

Food intolerances can cause an array of digestive discomforts, but it’s important to remember an allergy can potentially kill someone. The bigger picture of menu selection is that people can be allergic to nearly anything — no matter how minute or bizarre, so food safety practices are should be held to a high standard.

Jeff Rebh is president and CEO of Innsoeal, an international manufacturer and distributor of tamper-evident bag-sealing solutions.