SILVER SPRING, MD. – Increased efforts to improve food-safety practices in retail food establishments, specifically placing certified food-safety managers to oversee safety practices, has been called for by the Food and Drug Administration. FDA pledged to work closely with state and local governments and operators of restaurants, grocery stores and other foodservice establishments to prevent illness from contaminated food.

Michael Taylor, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods, cited the retail food industry's recent progress in key areas as well as room for improvement, based on the findings released Oct. 22 from FDA's 10-year study tracking the retail industry's efforts to reduce five key risk factors. ?

"In looking at the data, it is quite clear that having a certified food-protection manager on the job makes a difference," Taylor said. "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."

The 2009 retail food report, one component of the 10-year study, found the presence of a certified food-protection manager in four facility types was correlated with statistically significant higher compliance levels with food-safety practices and behaviors than in facilities lacking a certified manager.

For example, compliance in full-service restaurants was 70% with a manager, versus 58% without a manager. In delicatessens, compliance was 79% with a manager, versus 64% without. For seafood markets, compliance with a manager was 88%, versus 82% without. And in produce markets, compliance was 86% with a manager, versus 79% without. ?

Taylor said the FDA initiative will also include:

  • Increased efforts to encourage widespread, uniform and complete adoption of the FDA Model Food Code by state, local and tribal regulatory agencies that are responsible for retail food-safety standard setting and inspection. The Food Code recommends standards for management and personnel, food operations and equipment and facilities.
  • Increased efforts for adopting FDA's National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards by state, local and tribal agencies that enforce the Food Code and other measures to create an enhanced local regulatory environment for retail food operations.

The 10-year study looked at more than 800 retail food establishments in 1998, 2003 and 2008 and five risk factors: food from unsafe sources, poor personal hygiene, inadequate cooking, improper holding of food (time and temperature) and contaminated food surfaces and equipment.

FDA found overall compliance improved in all nine categories of establishments. The improvements were statistically significant in elementary schools, fast-food restaurants, full-service restaurants, meat and poultry markets and departments, as well as produce markets and departments. Although not statistically significant, improvements were seen in hospitals, nursing homes, deli departments/stores and seafood markets and departments.

Continued improvements are needed across the board, in regard to three risk factors: poor personal hygiene, improper holding of food, and contaminated food surfaces and equipment, according to FDA.