Food Safety Managers: Retail’s Magic Bullet?

A ten-year food safety study released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in late October indicates that food safety managers (FSMs) at restaurants, grocery stores, and other retailers significantly improve their establishments’ compliance with food safety standards in a number of key areas.

Having a food safety manager on site allows you a lot more control.

— Jon Trelfa, Trelfa Labs

The study, which showed industry-wide improvement in meeting food safety standards from 1998 to 2008, focused on five risk factors: food from unsafe sources, poor personal hygiene, inadequate cooking, improper holding of food, and contaminated food surfaces and equipment. Full service restaurants employing a certified FSM achieved 70 percent compliance with safety standards in these categories, compared to 58 percent compliance in restaurants without FSMs. Delicatessens with FSMs had a 79 percent compliance rate, compared to 64 percent without them.

“In looking at the data, it is quite clear that having a certified food protection manager on the job makes a difference,” said Michael R. Taylor, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods, in a news release. “Some states and localities require certified food protection managers already, and many in the retail industry employ them voluntarily as a matter of good practice. We think it should become common practice.”

Jon Trelfa, president of Trelfa Labs, a Massachusetts-based food safety consultancy, said that businesses without certified FSMs must rely on third-party auditors to check the safety of supplies. “Having a food safety manager on site allows you a lot more control,” he said. “The large retailers like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s have already gotten these guys in place, as have some of the larger grocery chains. A lot of the smaller retailers still rely on ‘When something comes in, I look at it, and if it seems good, I put it on the shelves.’ But we’re starting to see the understanding of the importance of FSMs trickle down.”

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