Risk Management: Food Safety – Reducing the Risk

Risk Management

by Ed Schirick

The United States enjoys one of the safest food supplies in the world.
This fact should not cause you to be too comfortable or complacent, however.
Recent studies and news stories raise a lot of questions about the safety
of the nation’s food supply and confirm there is still plenty of room
for improvement.

The Risk Is Real

Several months ago, ground beef contaminated with e-coil 0157 bacteria
was discovered at a fast-food restaurant after several people became ill.
The company that processed the beef closed. Their product was recalled.
Recently, a television news magazine did a story about how eggs are processed
and identified abuses in establishment of shelf freshness dates. The importance
of food storage at proper temperatures, thorough cooking, and the risk
of salmonella were emphasized in the broadcast.

Magazine tests poultry

Consumer Reports conducted and published a study about poultry in their
March 1998 issue. Researchers purchased store brands and premium brands
of chicken described as “free range” in order to test a broad cross-section
of the market.

Consumer Reports representatives purchased one thousand whole fresh chickens
from various grocery stores in thirty-six cities over a five-week period.
The birds were tested by an independent laboratory.

Test results showed campylobacter was present in 63 percent of the chickens,
salmonella in 16 percent, and both strains of bacteria present in 8 percent
of the poultry tested. Only 29 percent of the chickens tested were free
of both bacteria. Harmful bacteria were found in a shocking 71 percent
of the chickens in the study!

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the
number of outbreaks of illness caused by chicken rose 300 percent. Salmonella
was the culprit in most of these outbreaks. But today, campylobacter is
causing more people to become ill than salmonella.

A Preventable Risk

Improper handling, storage, and cooking of food present a number of risks
at camp. However, these potential risks are often overlooked or underestimated
in camp risk management plans, which generally focus only on program and
other operational risks.

Food for thought

The consequences of food-borne illness at camp are considerable. What if . . .

  • you had to close your facility?
  • the Health Department forced you to close?
  • you had to return a portion of your revenue?
  • you had to manage the public relations implications of a closure due to food-borne illness?

The nature of these questions shows that the risk of food-borne illness
is significant. It can present huge problems to camp directors or risk
managers. Frankly, it has the potential for ruining your business. The
tragedy, aside from the sickness and pain people might suffer, is that
food- borne illness is preventable.

Focus on Prevention

What can you do to reduce the risk of contaminated food or prevent the
problem altogether? The first step is increased awareness. Hire qualified
people. Secure documentation of their experience, and have them demonstrate
their knowledge. Read and follow the standards and stay abreast of
other industry reports.

Educate everyone connected with the kitchen. Don’t assume people – including
the cook – know. Sometimes people fall into bad habits or lose sight of
the importance of the following four fundamentals of food safety.

Keep clean

Keeping hands and utensils clean is essential. Always wash hands after
handling poultry and other meat. Clean knives, forks, spoons, pots, and
pans before using them to prepare other foods during the cooking process.
Good personal hygiene is critical in the kitchen at all times. Handwashing
should not be limited to bathrooms after use of the toilet. Proper washing
and cleaning practices will help prevent cross-contaminating foods.

Prevent cross-contamination

If your hands or knives, forks, and other utensils are not cleaned after
preparing each different food, you run the risk of unknowingly passing
salmonella or campylobacter along to other foods. Some food service organizations
have begun using disposable gloves as a way of reducing the risk of cross-contamination.
Another technique involves designating certain areas exclusively for the
preparation of certain high-risk foods. Disinfecting work surfaces is
also essential.  Pay extra attention to Standards addressing cross-contamination.

Cook to proper temperature

How does a cook know when the food is done? Should he rely on the temperature
settings of ovens, how long the food has been cooking, or the color of
the food to know when it is ready to serve? The answer is none of the
above. Health Department and food-service professionals advise relying
on a meat thermometer, even when cooking hamburgers, to determine doneness.

Cooks should know proper internal temperatures of cooked meats, and food
should not be served until the cook is satisfied that this temperature
has been reached. The cook and the camp director or owner are responsible
for ensuring that food is cooked at the proper temperature. This is particularly
difficult on cookouts and overnights, but the rules should still be applied.

Store foods correctly

Store foods properly prior to cooking: less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit
in the refrigerator and zero degrees Fahrenheit in the freezer. Also,
hold foods at the proper temperature, 140 degrees Fahrenheit in most states,
prior to serving.  Temperature logs must be maintained so problems can be identified
and corrective action taken immediately.

After serving, refrigerate potentially hazardous foods quickly. Leaving
certain items out too long may increase the risk of bacterial growth and
cause illness. Pay special attention to keeping perishable foods within
proper temperature ranges on outdoor cookouts and catering jobs.

What’s Your Plan?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established and
implemented a new inspection program for poultry and meat. In December
1997, the Clinton Administration proposed an additional $71 million in
spending for federal food safety programs in the next budget. But, in
the mean time, the public is dealing with certain foods that may not be
as safe as once thought. What is your plan to manage this risk and reduce
the potential for food-borne illness in your camp?

Reports of food-related illnesses at camp seem to appear every summer.
Most cases are minor. But, it is possible to have a large and serious
outbreak of food-related illness at camp. Considering the potential harm,
camp directors must insist upon safe food handling practices in their
kitchens. Education and increased awareness are key. Good execution of
your plan is also critical to success.

So with summer underway, is there still time to impact how you manage
the risk of food-borne illness in your business? Yes, but, you must act now!

“Chicken: What you don’t know can hurt you.” 1998. Consumer Reports, March, 12-18.

Originally published in the 1998 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.

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