Biosecurity is safety factor for food service

Oct 9th, 2008 | By | Category: Campus News, October 9, 2008

New extension program educates

Beware: The person coming through your delivery door could be someone other than your friendly delivery person.

That’s a thought even small Midwestern food-related businesses must face about potential risks to food safety, whether accidental or intentional, said Julie Albrecht, UNL Extension food safety specialist.

“There’s often easy access to the back door. It’s just inviting something to happen,” Albrecht said. “We can’t be so complacent anymore.”

Food safety and biosecurity awareness need to be heightened, whether they relate to livestock in a pasture, a food processing plant or a local cafe, Albrecht said.

Often individuals from smaller communities say they know everyone in their communities. They may be hesitant to follow food safety biosecurity recommendations to limit customer access, conduct background checks on potential employees, install working security cameras and require identification of delivery personnel, Albrecht said.

But it’s really in their best interests to be more alert overall, she added.

“Think about it with regard to the customers,” Albrecht said, adding most delivery personnel have received training and are aware of the protocol for proper identification.

Even a self-analysis can help, Albrecht said. For example, if you always use one entrance for your business, go through another entrance to see what others see.

Albrecht is a member of the Nebraska Food Safety Task Force, an organization of educational, regulatory and industrial interests focusing on food safety. The task force in 2007 received additional federal biosecurity funding to generate greater food safety awareness.

Through the grant, Albrecht obtained educational materials distributed in 2007 at three Nebraska food trade shows. Nearly 400 show visitors completed a survey about food safety awareness.

Of them, 60 percent were “very concerned” about food safety but only 35 percent felt intentional food contamination could occur in their establishment. About 65 percent of people at the show said they had increased security in their facility through deliveries, storage, handling, employee access and inspections.

George Hanssen, food division manager for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, said the education and measures taken to prevent intentional food contamination also help prevent accidental food contamination.

“As time goes on, Nebraskans are becoming more aware of what goes on around them,” Hanssen said.

Albrecht also coordinates the Nebraska Restaurant Association’s ServSafe education, which recently added biosecurity awareness as part of the curriculum. Each year UNL extension educators teach safe food handling practices to 700 to 800 food handlers employed by restaurants, schools, hospitals, institutions and caterers.

“Consumers have the right to safe food,” said Beth Haas, NRA hospitality education coordinator, adding people are more aware of their food origins and what to do if food safety is compromised.

Albrecht said in today’s world playing practical jokes regarding food is totally unacceptable, and people should call the police – not the health department – if intentional food contamination is suspected.

— Story by Cheryl Alberts, IANR

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