COLLEGE STATION– Texas Agricultural Extension Service agents from 130 counties have received instructor training to conduct food protection management programs to further increase food safety awareness in the more than 87,000 food service operations in Texas.
Georgia Lockridge, director of the food industry training division of the Institute of Food Science and Engineering, said, “There’s such a need for education of food service managers, the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) estimate that there are between 24 and 81 million cases of foodborne illness every year in the United States and about 10,000 deaths as a result.”
She said 75 percent to 79 percent of these reported cases are in food service operations which includes restaurants, hotels, motels, convenience stores, resorts, recreation centers, retail grocery stores, country clubs, cafeterias, bed and breakfast inns, correctional institutions, health care facilities, day care facilities, mobile food vendors, festival vendors and anyone who prepares, serves or dispenses food to the public.
Lockridge is coordinating the food protection management program for the Texas A&M University System which includes the Extension Service, the Institute of Food Science and Engineering and the Center for Distance Education.
Lockridge said they train the food service managers who in turn are given the knowledge and skills to train their own food handlers. She said this training is very important because there is a turnover rate of about 200 percent in food handling positions.
Lockridge said this training uses Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system- based knowledge. The HACCP system which is currently used in meat and poultry plants, works on problem prevention. She said monitoring of food temperature and time held in the food temperature danger zone can keep the food from reaching dangerous levels of bacteria.
Chris Holcombe, Milam County Extension agent, said, “The program was very well received and we had people who came with a wide age range as well as a wide background and knowledge. They spoke very favorably of the course and they all did well on it.”
Holcombe worked with county extension agents from Lee and Burleson counties to conduct the first county food protection management program in Texas.
She said the 15-hour fact and figure intensive course covers everything from food safety hazards, the HACCP system, the purchase and handling of safe foods, sanitation, pest management, regulatory agencies, to keeping the food safe during serving.
“This is a very nuts and bolts type program, it’s very specific, times, temperatures, it’s a pretty black and white. There are not a whole lot of gray areas. Even those who have had a lot of experience were very positive about the program and how much they learned,” Holcombe said.
She said as a result of the program, they are planning three more training programs in her area over the next year and she has been asked by some public school food service managers to conduct some further training for their food handlers.
Lockridge said many health jurisdictions already require the managers of food service operations to attend and obtain certification of some type of food safety program to increase food safety standards.
She said county Extension agents will be responsible for educating managers at the county level. She is planning to conduct more agent training across the state because the program has been so popular. Fifty more county training programs are planned over the next three months.