By Kevin Besey, Director // MDARD Food and Dairy Division
Preventing foodborne illness at retail food establishments requires the consistent use of a series of coordinated food safety measures as outlined in the federal Food Code and Michigan Food Law. MDARD’s new data management capabilities implemented over the past year allow us to better use regulatory data to pinpoint foodborne illness risk factors. Industry and regulators can use this information to more efficiently and effectively focus prevention efforts.
Last fall, MDARD started a process to strengthen regulatory and industry retail food safety programs by adjusting risk-based inspection strategies to better identify and address non-compliant establishments. The process includes a targeted pilot project with two large retail grocery chains, slated to begin in May, focusing on improving foodborne illness prevention efforts through expanded two-way communication, data sharing and coordinated action.
During the pilot project, MDARD food inspectors will focus on Priority violations in Chapters 2, 3 and 4 of the federal Food Code. The example below shows how a Priority Violation appears on an inspection report:
Industry partners have been identified to participate in the pilot program and the Food and Dairy Division has begun sharing inspection data with the retail food establishments participating in the pilot project. With feedback from participants, the pilot project will be finalized by April and will take place from May to November. Results and feedback from pilot project participants will be reviewed and used to fine-tune a statewide program, which will be implemented by February 2018.
Compliance improvement plans a
re also being implemented for food service businesses (restaurants, catering businesses, etc.) and food manufacturers (to help them comply with the new Food Safety Modernization Act Preventive Controls rule).
There are multiple causes of non-compliance across Michigan’s diverse retail food industry. The most common non-compliance areas identified by MDARD inspectors include:
- Hot and cold holding temperatures
- Inventory control of ready-to-eat foods (date marking)
- Cleaning and sanitizing
- Cross-contamination prevention
Objectives for increasing regulatory compliance at retail food establishments, especially around these most common non-compliance areas, include improving Active Managerial Control (AMC) in retail food establishments, increasing effectiveness of regulatory risk-based inspections by identifying and focusing on establishments with the most problematic inspection histories, and increasing food manager and food handler training.
MDARD will also collaborate with industry to develop a free retail food safety tool kit so help improve compliance. The tool kit will include incentives, technology, best practices and training resources. The incentive component may include recognition of businesses for their food safety compliance efforts, less frequent inspections, and drawings for free annual food establishment licenses.
The pilot project has a few challenges, including a tight timeline for making significant changes and the never-ending challenge of balancing workload commitments for both industry and MDARD. A lack of nationally recognized metrics for measuring successful improvements in reducing risk factors for foodborne illness also poses a challenge. Knowing these challenges going in, though, will help us meet them head on, and we are confident that through this collaboration with industry, we can significantly increase regulatory compliance and reduce risks for foodborne illness in Michigan.
I look forward to sharing updates on this project over the next year, and to offering tools and incentives to all retail food establishments in 2018.