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Food contamination, ingredient omissions in product labeling and safety handling missteps have affected countless producers, distributors and retailers, ensnaring the names of some of the most respected companies in the food and foodservice business. Each segment has winced over allegations, sometimes verified and sometimes not, that have linked their names to undeclared allergens, E-Coli, Listeria and other dangers.
Seattle-based foodservice consultant Dean Dirks of Dirks & Associates, advises foodservice operators to be proactive to avoid food borne illnesses, suggesting:
• Store employees be informed of other retailer's food safety missteps to keep the issue current
• Require district, store and foodservice managers to become Serve Safe certified
• Develop food safety audits to be completed daily at the store level plus regular audits at the district level
• Keep records of refrigeration temperatures and product every four hours, plus date and rotate products
• Constant hand washing
• Develop a food borne illness reporting procedure
He also has advised retailers to provide the customer with the contact information for the corporate office; Only the food service director or other senior manager should follow up with the customer; A scripted list of questions, developed by a foodservice professional and reviewed by an attorney, should be used to record the customer's comments; If more than three customers call with the same symptoms then the retailer legally has a food borne outbreak. The next step is to get the county health department involved.
The bottom line, said Dirks, is that retailers should assume food borne illnesses will happen and prepare for them.
Recently, Stop & Shop recalled store brand tuna salad, sold both pre-packaged in 12-ounce containers and at its service delis, because of possible Listeria Monocytogenes contamination; Giant Food, LLC recalled several Giant-brand bakery products made by Grandma Taylor and carried in its Bakeshop, because the items might contain nut allergens that were missing from the product labels; and Wegmans widened its recall of store-made bagels to include challah bread and in-store baked bagels, bialys and rolls sold in its bakery departments between June 19 and Sept. 11 because of the possible presence of metal fragments in the food.
The food industry has responded: the new Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program was instituted and Smithfield Foods Inc., the nation’s largest pork producer, intends to procure and process only U.S. born and raised hogs at its domestic processing facilities. Additionally, 34 companies from across the produce supply chain have endorsed a new plan developed by the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) to move the industry to a common standard for electronic produce traceability by the end of 2012. Further, the Produce Marketing Association has encouraged the FDA to adopt a globally standardized and certified audit program that would be an important step toward uniformity, reliability and consistency in produce food safety requirements. So far, the FDA has approved irradiating produce to protect against pathogens, having determined that modern irradiation techniques can kill food-poisoning germs without compromising the safety or nutrient value of raw spinach and lettuce.
On the retail side, Kroger has been reminding shoppers to be cautious about food safety resulting from extended power outages in the wake of the latest hurricane incidents. Stop & Shop made prevention of allergic reactions to food a priority during National Food Safety Education Month in September, creating this year’s theme, "Take Action to Prevent an Allergic Reaction." The chain has removed bulk bins for tree nuts and peanuts and now sells them pre-packaged.