As the holiday season approaches, food banks will see a huge uptick in donations of canned goods and other foods. Generous donations at this time of year help needy families put food on their holiday table, but hunger is a daily problem for the 49 million Americans who live in food-insecure households, according to government data. With its nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, Feeding America helps feed residents of all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico.
With such a large operation — Feeding America provided more than 3 billion meals last year — food safety is paramount. Feeding America partnered with the National Restaurant Association to create a comprehensive food handling training guide for its network of food bank employees, agency staff and volunteers. The NRA’s ServSafe team surveyed Feeding America employees, conducted focus group and toured food banks to create the “ServSafe Food Handler Guide for Food Banking,” which provides training on maintaining good personal hygiene, cleaning and sanitizing food properly as well as receiving, storing, evaluating, repacking and transporting food safely.
“We are thankful to the National Restaurant Association for teaming with us to create these important new training materials for food banks and partner agencies,” Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America said in a news release. “Food safety is core to our operations and we are delighted that the Association has shared with us their years of experience and expertise.”
SmartBrief interviewed Clay Hosh, NRA’s Instruction Design Manager, about food safety for food banking operations and what the NRA and ServSafe learned while working on the guide.
Does food safety protocol for food banks differ in any way from the protocol in restaurants?
The basic food safety principles apply to any operation that handles food. That is true whether you are talking about food banks and their partner agencies such as soup kitchens, school pantries, church pantries, their local distribution network, or restaurants. These principles include preventing cross-contamination, proper personal hygiene, time and temperature control, and proper cleaning and sanitizing. So, food safety protocols for food banks and agencies and restaurants and foodservice establishments will overlap.
What really differs is where these operations place the focus of these protocols. There is a difference in how food flows through these operations. The flow-of-food in food banks and agencies is really focused on receiving and storage of food and its transport and distribution. While restaurants and other foodservice operations do these things, they don’t do them to the extent that food banks and agencies do.
What are some common areas of concern for any type of operation that handles food?
The CDC has identified risk factors for foodborne illness. They revolve around five key areas:
- Poor personal hygiene
- Improper cleaning and sanitizing
- Time-temperature abuse
- Buying from unapproved supplies
Mistakes made in any of these areas could lead to a foodborne illness. So, all operations should focus on preventing mistakes in these areas in order to keep food safe.
What did the NRA and ServSafe learn from working with Feeding America?
We learned that while food banks and agencies have many similarities with restaurants and other foodservice establishments, there are some differences as well. As mentioned previously, the way in which food flows through a food bank or agency requires more focus on safe practices for receiving, storing, transporting, and distributing food.
We also learned that like the restaurant and foodservice industry, food safety training is key. While food banks and agencies employ full time staff, they also depend on a host of volunteers to help carry out their mission. These people may or may not be familiar with the fundamentals of food safety and need training, just like other entry level food handlers.
One of the key takeaways from working with Feeding America was an acknowledgement of the sheer volume of food that food banks and agencies safely handle on a daily basis. That includes bulk and recovered food which may have gone to waste otherwise.
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