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
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 unearned tuition?
- 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 ACA 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.
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.
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. ACA Standards A-27 and A-28 address 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