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Enhancing Food Safety in Educational Systems

student-eats-in-the-canteen

Without proper measures in place, grade schools as well as college and university campus cafeterias can become vulnerable to the viruses and bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

Despite the fact that student safety and well-being is of the utmost importance, this crucial aspect of public health is sometimes overlooked by educators and parents and needs to be brought into focus.

The Importance of Food Safety in Schools

Just how critical a role does food safety play in the educational environment?
Consider that approximately 51% of students who are more vulnerable to foodborne illnesses and allergic reactions received daily school meals in 2021.1

A Pew Research Report, “Young Children and Foodborne Illness,” revealed that children under five years of age experience higher rates of infection from 80% of major foodborne pathogens.1  These facts underscore the importance of excellent and strict hygiene and food safety standards.

Common Food Safety Risks in Educational Systems

Several common food safety risks exist in the education system and threaten the health of students and staff at grade schools, colleges, and universities.

Lack of personal hygiene among food handlers, servers, and students, such as improper handwashing procedures, can lead to the rapid spread of bacteria.

Improper food-handling practices, such as not wearing gloves, washing hands properly, or processing raw and cooked foods in the same area, cause cross-contamination and the rapid multiplication of bacteria on seemingly safe surfaces.

Water contamination can result from irregular water flow, which causes drainage lines and grease interceptors to become blocked, creating a breeding ground for bacteria that can be easily transferred to food if left unaddressed.

Inadequate food storage, whether due to a lack of space or malfunctioning appliances, it leaves products in unsafe temperatures, which dramatically raises the risk for foodborne illness.

Key Concepts for Enhancing Food Safety

The mandatory HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) system was designed to reduce foodborne illness by reducing the occurrence of pathogenic microorganisms found on meat and poultry products.

HACCP can greatly benefit schools at all education levels because it offers guidance on identifying food safety hazards and establishing critical control points (such as safe temperature ranges), as well as preventive measures that can be put in place to minimize contamination and illness risk.

Because allergens are a constant yet manageable risk to food safety in schools, kitchens can also develop an HACCP allergen control program to target these specifically for their areas.

The Food Safety Modernization Act provides important guidance and information regarding the prevention of foodborne illness, as well as state food safety certification and training resources.

The personal hygiene of all staff, whether they are preparing or serving food, is absolutely crucial. Regular health checkups, in addition to wearing the right protective gear and practicing proper handwashing technique, can contribute to staff and student health.

Storing food at correct temperatures, being careful to avoid cross-contamination, and cooking food to recommended temperatures are all safe-handling practices that every school can implement.

ComplianceMate’s food safety temperature monitoring solution offers an automated solution for continuous temperature checks with instant alerts when food reaches critical control points.

Rules and Protocols for School Campuses

The best way to ensure HACCP compliance is to develop a set of rules and protocols around food safety.

Schedule regular inspections, in house or by a food safety and inspection service to ensure continued hygiene standards and regulations compliance.

Provide food safety training to anyone involved in food-related activities, including all kitchen staff, teachers and administrators, including an awareness of allergy related issues.
This can take the form of food safety manager certification or course completion awards.

Rules for the proper storage and transportation of food should be implemented to ensure the correct storage temperature of all perishable foods while en route to campuses and cafeterias.

Finally, having an emergency response plan can greatly minimize the impact of foodborne illness outbreaks and product recalls on your community. Ensuring that everyone is aware and responds in an organized and similar manner.

Involving Your Community

Parents, students, and the community as a whole should be actively involved in monitoring food safety in their schools.

In addition to open communication channels for food safety observations and concerns, you can download the Food Safe Schools Action Guide, which contains information you can use in your school and your community to highlight the importance of food safety and encourage safe food handling, storage, and transportation.

The Partnership for Food Safety Education also offers many resources for the community and the classroom.

ComplianceMate: Your Solution for Healthy Foods in Schools

Student holding tray of cafeteria food.

There is no doubt that students are at the highest risk of foodborne illness, which can affect students at all levels of education from elementary to high schools and universities.
Utilizing ComplianceMate’s automated solution protects the students and ensures that the quality of cafeteria foods in schools is meeting all safety and health requirements. 

The customizable solution is the perfect complement to your food safety program. Automated HACCP workflow checklists help train staff quickly and guide them through daily line check work while ensuring compliance and underscoring food safety importance.

Wireless probes in hot and cold holding appliances offer continuous temperature monitoring and instant alerts when temperatures are out of range, allowing you to ensure freshness and minimize food waste. ComplianceMate’s easy-to-use reporting contains historical data for both monitoring and checklists for temperature history and work completion and to conduct root cause analyses.

Learn more about how ComplianceMate can enhance your food safety program. Request your customized demonstration here.

Sources:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/72/wr/mm7220a6.htm
  2. https://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2014/11/childrenandfoodborneillness.pdf
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