News & Blog

4 Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses in School Cafeterias


4 Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses in School Cafeterias

With the school year in full swing, most schools and Local School Food Authorities (LSFAs) are implementing updates and changes to their food safety programs to ensure maximum safety. These programs address specific and nonspecific hazards that affect food safety in two ways. First, they employ written standard operating procedures (SOPs). Second, they ground their processes in Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP).

It’s so many terms and acronyms that you might feel like you’re swimming in a bowl of alphabet soup. But don’t worry—Responsible Training will help you steady your backstroke.

Specific and Nonspecific Hazards
You can spend the rest of your life classifying food safety hazards, or you can categorize hazards by specific and nonspecific. Specific hazards relate to food preparation, such as cooking temperatures and contaminants. Nonspecific hazards cover risks that affect all foods, such as employees who come to work while still recovering from the cold or flu.

Each type of hazard requires a proper process and response. Specific hazards are addressed with “critical control points,” something outlined by HACCP. Nonspecific hazards are usually managed with best practices and standard operating procedures.

Standard Operating Procedures
We don’t recommend basing any food safety program on Wikipedia entries, but the site does offer a good definition for standard operating procedures.

“A standard operating procedure, or SOP, is a set of step-by-step instructions compiled by an organization to help workers carry out routine operations. SOPs aim to achieve efficiency, quality output and uniformity of performance, while reducing miscommunication and failures to comply with industry regulations.”

But standard operating procedures only work when documented and shared with your staff. And, while writing out the SOPs is an unenviable task, it ultimately benefits you. It’s a whole lot easier to applaud or reprimand a worker and ensure safety across the board when standards are set, taught and upheld.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, which everybody calls HACCP for short, became a reality for school environments in 2005 and 2006. A 2004 amendment to section 9(h) of the National School Lunch Act required LSFAs to create food safety programs based on HACCP principles and conforming to controls set by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

HACCP principles frame food safety programs because they cover everything from the identification of critical control points to recordkeeping and periodic reviews. Like standard operating procedures, writing a food safety program that encompasses all of the district’s core principles takes time. The effort is worthwhile, though, in its effectiveness; with a HACCP-based plan, you will prevent foodborne illnesses and be equipped to respond to kids’ allergies, food recalls and other food-related matters.

Food Safety Regulations
One food safety regulation has been mentioned already: the National School Lunch Act. Others exist, including the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Acts of 2010 and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The second applies to any organization involved with food handling while the first obviously concerns school environments.

The first, however, has undergone some alterations with the new administration. According to a press release from the USDA, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue signed a proclamation in May 2017 to “provide greater flexibility in nutrition requirements for school meal programs in order to make food choices both healthful and appealing to students.” It remains to be seen how the changes affect school meals, but the response to the new regulation has been mixed to say the least.

Staying up to date with food safety regulations may be challenging, but it isn’t impossible. Let Responsible Training help with the heavy lifting. Use our online food safety and food handler courses today to train and certify your school staff.