|THE FOOD SERVICE PROGRAM
The purpose of the food service program is to protect public health through a uniform process that
seeks to reduce the occurrence of risk factors known to cause foodborne illness. There are five
major components within the program: plan review, inspections, enforcement, complaint handling,
and foodborne illness investigation. Each component in its own way is critical to make the program
effective. In addition, a common thread that runs through all of these activities is education of
the client and public.
The first component of the food service program,
, is meant to identify
construction or equipment problems before they are built into the establishment. A staff member
who is trained in the requirements of plan review will review the documents submitted by the food
service operator. These documents will include blueprints, menu, standard operating procedures,
equipment specifications, water supply and sewage disposal information. The plan review specialist
must be able to understand these documents and properly interpret the requirements of the food code.
Any problems identified in the plans must be communicated to the owner or builder so that correction
can be made before construction starts. A very thorough review is necessary so that risk factors
that contribute to foodborne illness are not built into the new facility.
Food Facility Inspections
The second component of the food service program, the food facility inspection
, is the most recognizable function of the program.
The food service program sanitarian must be able to master a wide range of personal and technical
skills that are necessary to conduct competent inspections. The sanitarian should have knowledge
of epidemiology, food protection, principles of foodborne disease prevention, sampling procedures,
sampling and testing techniques, report writing, risk assessment and communication, and management
techniques. All of these skills are necessary to effectively evaluate the establishment and
communicate the evaluation to the operator.
When conducting a food service inspection, the sanitarian must detect food safety hazards, identify
the cause (be it lack of knowledge, problems in the work environment, or a motivational issue) and
then see to it that the owner of the establishment complies with his/her responsibility to assure
the safety of the food provided. To be most effective, the sanitarian must educate and motivate so
that the voluntary compliance continues after the sanitarian leaves. This process begins with
the entry into the establishment and the introduction to the management that includes the purpose
of the visit. Ideally the introductions will put the management and staff at ease so there can be
effective two way communication.
The sanitarian will then begin a systematic approach to inspect the entire operation including
elements not operating during the inspection. A guide that is used to "observe" practices that
take place at other times is the facility's menu. Certain foods on the menu such as roasts, soups,
and even vegetables may require extensive preparation if prepared on site. Reviewing these food
processes with the operator, and later with the staff, can uncover problems with preparation,
cooling, storage, and reheating among others. This focus on food processes is called a risk
based inspection, which is superior in uncovering problems that directly contribute to foodborne
illness. Once the sanitarian has a good understanding of the operation they will continue to
observe the processes taking place. Special attention is given to food temperatures, cross
contamination possibilities and employee practices. Equipment and storage is checked to make
sure it is sufficient for the operation and is in good condition. Throughout the inspection
it is important that the sanitarian continue to ask questions to understand how an observed
process works or to verify that the staff follows the same procedures explained earlier by
At the conclusion of the inspection the sanitarian must document the findings on an inspection
report that is clear and concise. The report must stand alone and communicate what is a violation,
where it occurred, why it is a violation, methods of correction, and a time frame for correction.
Each item is reviewed with the operator so they have an understanding of the food code requirements
and what is expected for compliance. If there are priority or priority foundation violations
- "Priority item" means a provision in the Food Code whose application contributes directly to the elimination, prevention, or reduction to an acceptable level of hazards associated with foodborne illness or injury if there is no other provision that more directly controls the hazard. Priority item includes an item with a quantifiable measure to show control of hazards such as cooking, reheating, cooling, or hand washing.
- "Priority Foundation item" means a provision in the Food Code whose application supports, facilitates, or enables one or more priority items. Priority Foundation item includes an item that requires the purposeful incorporation of specific actions, equipment, or procedures by industry management to attain control of risk factors that contribute to foodborne illness or injury such as personnel training, infrastructure, or necessary equipment, HACCP plans, documentation or record-keeping, and labeling.
that cannot be corrected during the inspection a follow up inspection is scheduled with the operator.
The discussion at the end of the inspection also allows the operator time to ask other questions they
may have. Done effectively, the facility inspection along with a motivated operator results in a
reduced potential for foodborne illness.
If the facility fails to make the necessary corrections found during the routine inspection or
there is an important food safety procedure that is not being controlled as evidenced by repeated
violations, the operator will be subject to enforcement. This step is taken when it is apparent
the operator or management is not taking necessary steps to reduce potential causes of foodborne
illness. This is a last resort as it concludes with the revocation of the operator's food service
license. Included in the enforcement process are multiple opportunities for the operator to comply
with food safety requirements.
The public also aids in compliance with food safety through the complaint process. When complaints
are received they are evaluated based on whether an illness is alleged or other significant food
safety issue is suspected. In most cases a complaint will result in a surprise inspection of the
establishment. The inspection is directed to determine if evidence exists that either validates
the complaint or shows otherwise. A valid complaint, which is a food code violation, is discussed
with the operator and corrections are made. Each establishment has a sanitarian present for a few
hours each year, therefore information from customers who experience what they feel are food safety
problems can be a valuable resource.
1Michigan Department of Agriculture. "Training Program for the Professional
Food Service Sanitarian, Module 1: Role of the Sanitarian" [Online] 29 January 2007.
The final link in the food service program is the foodborne illness
investigation. When a foodborne illness happens a failure of the food safety system has occurred.
It is the sanitarians job to evaluate the potential source of the illness. The facility staff and
management are interviewed to determine if there are additional illnesses that may have occurred
before the suspected outbreak. Food processes are also reviewed to determine if there may have
been a source, cooking, cooling, or reheating problem. The goal of the sanitarian in the food
establishment is to identify the potential cause of the illness and to put procedures in place
to prevent further occurrence. Foods that may be left over from an alleged outbreak are collected
using sterile methods for later laboratory analysis.
At this point the investigation becomes a team effort involving public health nursing, health education,
an epidemiologist, medical director, and health officer. All participants review the available evidence
to help form a hypothesis and guide the laboratory in sample analysis. Early preventative steps can be
communicated to the establishment and those ill to prevent further spread of the illness. Early and
effective intervention can result in the prevention of further illness.
Prevention of illness is why we are here. The sanitarian working in the Food Service Program is an
important link in the prevention of disease within our community. Sanitarians conducting thorough plan
reviews and inspections, taking enforcement actions when necessary, earnestly responding to complaints,
and participating in foodborne illness investigations, all the while educating along the way makes an
effective Food Service Program.