JCN&M Study Explores Food Safety Practices in SFSPs


The following is the fifth in a series of news stories examining each of the JCN&M papers in the Spring 2017 Issue.

Thanks to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), low-income children from all across the U.S. who depend upon national school lunch or breakfast programs throughout the school year, will be fed this June through September. In fact, the USDA estimates that it plans to serve more than 200 million free meals to children 18 years and under at approved SFSP sites this summer.

As SFSPs continues to expand, food safety is essential to the success of the program and therefore, special consideration and attention should be paid by foodservice professionals to the potential food safety risks associated with operating SFSPs and the sometimes-unique scenarios in which they can function. For example: although some sites prepare and serve food in a single location, others require transportation to one or more satellite locations where food is held during service. Some of these sites do not have the convenience of a fully equipped kitchen and as such, there can be barriers to proper handwashing and holding hot or cold foods at correct temperatures. A more obvious factor: summer’s higher ambient temperatures can pose challenges for food temperature control, especially as food is transported to satellite locations and/or served outdoors.

An added consideration with the SFSP is the abbreviated nature of program. Only running during the summer months with definite start and end dates, it may be difficult for employees and volunteers to be trained and functioning at the expected level within such a limited time frame. Many SFSP sites rely on volunteer support to prepare, deliver and serve meals to children so therefore, these people may have limited knowledge and skill sets related to safe food handling and may not know proper guidelines for cooking temperatures, holding temperatures, Time and Temperature Control for Safety Food, and/or proper cleaning of hands and surfaces.

In a new study in the Research in Action category of the latest issue of SNA’s The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management, researchers Emily Vaterlaus Patten, PhD, RDN, CD; Michelle Alcorn, MS; Tracee Watkins; Kerri Cole and Paola Paez, PhD wanted to determine current food safety practices at SFSP sites, identify types of food served at the sites and associated temperatures and establish recommendations for food safety training within the SFSP. After surveying SFSP sites in seven states, Observed Food Safety Practices in the Summer Food Service Program revealed a need for overall improvement of food safety, particularly in personal hygiene, time/temperature control and cleaning and sanitizing practices.

Most SFSPs are operated and administered by sponsors; state agency-approved locally, public or private non-profit organizations, whose function also includes ensuring food safety training is available and effective for employees and volunteers. Due to the difficulty with the short-term nature of the program and the transience of volunteers, the authors of the study recommend sponsors utilize all the resources available through the USDA and Institute of Child Nutrition to ease the burden of developing their own training tools. The study suggests, training priorities should include personal hygiene, and proper thermometer and sanitizer use.

Further, the study stresses the importance to educate staff on the specifics of time/temperature control, especially clarifying monitoring and corrective action steps that staff need to take to prevent pathogen growth and/or foodborne illness. State agencies seeking to increase SFSP participation may consider developing food safety training materials that are suited for the various levels of involvement in the program.

In summation, the study finds as participation in the SFSP continues to increase, ensuring the safety of food served is critical to protecting the health of the participating children.

About The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management:
The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management (JCN&M) is the exclusive source for research findings in this profession, and it features a variety of studies in the following four categories: Research in Action, Current Issues, Practical Solutions and FNS Research Corner. Published twice a year, this peer-reviewed research journal is available free of charge, online only. Read the current issue today.

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