Today’s Special? Safe Food a la Cooperative Extension

Thursday, December 13, 2012
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food safety

It may be the biggest taste-good story you never hear about in New Hampshire. But the stellar food safety record boasted by the state’s restaurant industry is startling when you digest the numbers.

In 2012, New Hampshire restaurants are projected to ring in $2.3 billion in sales. That’s a lot of breakfast sandwiches, cups of coffee, lobster rolls, hot dogs, and date nights on the town. Remarkably, it’s also exceedingly rare that anyone is sickened by unsafe restaurant food here. And that’s especially critical in tourism-dependent New Hampshire, where 63,800 employees—10 percent of the state’s workforce—are employed in the food services industry.

UNH Cooperative Extension can claim some of the credit, with two programs it promotes and teaches across the state: ServSafe®, a national food safety and sanitation program for food service managers, and Safety Awareness in the Food Environment (SAFE).

food safety class

SAFE reviews critical food safety and sanitation concepts, and food handling tips. According to UNH Cooperative Extension Specialist Catherine Violette, SAFE began in the early 1990s with a focus on three areas: personal hygiene, prevention of cross-contamination and time and temperature principles.

ServSafe® is a one-day course that follows the flow of food through an establishment. Food service workers learn what conditions enhance the growth of bacteria that causes foodborne illnesses along with the safe way to receive, store, prepare, cook and serve food for their customers. At the end of the course, the national ServSafe® exam is given, and participants must answer at least 75 percent of the questions correctly to pass.

In 2012, Cooperative Extension conducted 45 SAFE programs in New Hampshire, and 283 New Hampshire food managers/workers took the ServSafe® exam.

Restaurant owners vouch for the programs’ value, Violette says, because they know that a single case of E. coli bacteria or other food contaminant could force any restaurant out of business—and hurt the entire industry.

In addition to reaching food service workers in restaurants and tourist attractions, the programs educate food service workers in nursing homes, hospitals, schools and other organizations.

Restaurant Participation

The owner of the Enfield House of Pizza, Lori Bliss Hill, is a believer in the ServSafe® program. She’s been onboard since she took her first class in 2000, continuing with re-certifications in 2005 and again in 2010. Her training is conducted by Deb Maes, a UNH Cooperative Extension field specialist in Grafton County.

Hill ensures there’s always someone on her staff with a current certification at the restaurant. She also views the program as a resource, both for her employees and her clientele. It keeps her employees up-to-date on current food safety regulations; and a certificate hanging in plain sight in the restaurant lets her customers know she cares about the safety of the food she serves.

In Glen, N.H., the food and beverage manager of Story Land, Bud Selmi, uses ServSafe® to train all his frontline supervisors.

Ann Hamilton is the UNH Cooperative Extension field specialist in Carroll County, and she conducts both ServSafe® and SAFE at Story Land each year. Among her goals are to teach Story Land staff that both food safety, and the role they play in ensuring it happens, are important.

She found that both youth and adult employees don’t always realize how much a simple thing such as washing their hands correctly, or cooking food to the correct temperature, matter.

Food-borne diseases cause an estimated 48 million illnesses annually in the United States, with 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Consumers also spend roughly 48 percent of their food dollars in restaurants, supporting a critical part of the nation’s economy – and New Hampshire’s, where travel and tourism is the state’s second largest business sector.

As Selmi noted, Story Land serves some of the highest risk populations, children and grandparents. Since safety is Story Land’s number one priority, he begins by purchasing the safest possible products, brand names with time-tested food safety security systems in place.

Selmi, who also is a trained ServSafe® instructor, works with Hamilton to make sure that the thousands of visitors who come to Story Land each day are safe in every way possible.

Hamilton added that she’s evolved the program in many ways, particularly in the work she does with teenagers, who make up about 90 percent of Story Land’s workforce. “It’s fun to watch the youth. We play a food safety game and I give prizes and it’s really picked up the participation. It’s more fun and more teen-friendly,” Hamilton says.

ServSafe® is a program of the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, while SAFE is free. Violette also noted that Extension works closely with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Food Protection section, inviting inspectors to attend the ServSafe® training.

Visit the Cooperative Extension website for information about ServSafte and SAFE.

Originally published by:

UNH Today

Written by Holly Young/UNH Cooperative Extension