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Storage the theme of National Food Safety Education Month

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) is encouraging distributors, operators and manufacturers to learn how to store food safely during the ninth annual National Food Safety Education Month in September.

"Store it. Don't ignore it," is this year's theme. John Farquharson, president of the NRAEF's International Food Safety Council (IFSC), says the theme was chosen to highlight the importance of proper storage techniques.

"Getting (food) into the proper temperature is probably the most important part of 'Store it. Don't ignore it' because all it takes is just one incident of foodborne illness to put you out of business," he says. "When something is delivered, don't let it sit on the back dock, don't let it sit on the floor somewhere where the delivery person might have left it. Get it into the proper temperature and the proper storage facility as quickly as possible."

NRAEF will officially kick off National Food Safety Education Month at the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers annual show in New Orleans Sept. 5 -7. They will conduct a ServSafe class to certify people in food safety techniques during the conference and have a booth so NRAEF staff can answer questions.

The NRAEF website, www.nraef.org, also features quizzes that operators and distributors can use to test their knowledge of food storage techniques.

Farquharson has done a lot of food safety training with distributors who are certifying their DSRs and their operator customers.

"I have found that in many of the distribution houses across the country, they're conducting the ServSafe program and doing an excellent job of it," he says.

Sysco Corp. is one of the major distributors training foodservice operators in food safety procedures. The company conducts training programs in classroom facilities at its distribution centers and also offers training during its food shows.

"They would make it available as a benefit to their customers, the single restaurant operators around the various cities in the United States," Farquharson says. "The distribution side has really stepped up to the plate in the area of food safety education."

There are many things distributors should do to store food safely when products are in their control, experts say. They should make sure any products they receive have been stored at the proper temperatures and maintain a temperature log during transport. They should maintain raw foods and produce separate from meats and cooked foods so that they don't cross contaminate each other.

All of their warehouse facilities and transport vehicles should be cleaned and inspected, and all products should be coded with the manufacturer's lot number, name and proper labeling.

Many restaurants have adopted the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) procedures in their operations so distributors need to well-versed in HAACP, says David Pavesic, a professor in the School of Hospitality Administration at Georgia State University.

"As more restaurants adopt HACCP, the distributors who want their business will also adopt HACCP standards for their plants, warehouses and delivery vehicles," he says. "Their delivery drivers will also undergo certification training in safe food handling."

In the seven years the IFSC has been in existence, NRAEF has gone from certifying 20,000 people per year to 300,000 people per year and recently certified its 2 millionth person.

However, Pavesic, who trains foodservice personnel on safety issues, notes only about 20% of the 11.3 million workers in the foodservice industry are certified.

"We still have a long way to go," he says. "All foodservice employees should be required to undergo food handling and food safety training. This is critical, as more food handling employees are immigrants from foreign countries who have never been told about cross contamination and foodborne diseases transmitted by workers."

Farquharson promises NRAEF will continue to encourage everyone in the industry to brush up on their food safety knowledge.

"We feel that education is key to the answer to foodborne illness problems," he says. "We continue to push people in the industry to be sure they educate their employees in proper food safety techniques."

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