Columbus HD Food Safety Tool Box

State: OH Type: Model Practice Year: 2004

CHD’s goal is to become proactive in its approach to safe food for the community. In order to accomplish this, CHD through NACCHO’s funding, will distribute and implement its current success, the Food Safety Tool Box. It will be distributed in English, Chinese, Somali, and Spanish to address the growing need for the availability of multilingual food safety information. Through this practice the CHD intends to reduce the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks by educating licensed operators and food employees of proper food safety procedures. Columbus Health Department (CHD) was able to reach 100% of its target audience of licensed retail food facilities that are risk level 3 & 4. CHD experienced a 50% increase in the attendance to scheduled food safety workshops for 2003 as compared to 2002. CHD also experienced a decrease of foodborne illness complaints and outbreaks of 39% in 2003 as compared to 2002. This decrease, CHD believes, is directly related to the increase attendance of food employees at the food safety workshops and the implementation of learned food safety practices as well as the distribution and implementation of the Food Safety Tool Box to licensed retail food facilities in risk level 3 & 4. Key elements needed to replicate the practice include Food safety educators who speak English, Spanish, Chinese, and Somali; Food safety curriculum; and Food Safety Tool Box files with food safety posters, food code, food safety instructional sheets, and portfolio.
The landscape of Columbus has drastically changed in the past decade but the face of Columbus has changed more radically in the past five years. Columbus’ ethnic populations consist of Latino, Somali, and Chinese. In the past three years the cultural and language differences have surfaced in the retail food industry as immigrants have found employment as food employees and many have opened their own retail food operations. In Ohio, food operators are not required to be “certified food safety handlers” before they are issued retail food licenses. It is not uncommon for people to open a food business with very little knowledge of food safety rules and procedures. Historically, Columbus’ response to food safety has been reactionary due to foodborne illness outbreaks and/or when critical violations are observed during routine inspections. As a local public health agency (LPHA), Columbus desired to become proactive rather than reactive in its approach to ensuring safe food for the community. It was the vision of CHD to provide each newly licensed retail food facility with the proper food safety tools within the first 30 days of opening for business. In 2001, the “Food Safety Tool Box” was developed as a proactive tool, which enabled the vision to become a reality. The intent is to provide the operator with better access to food safety tools to reduce improper food handling and storage procedures. CHD had been addressing language needs by providing interpreters during food safety education classes and enforcement hearings when necessary. Unfortunately, at times, the message of food safety education became “clouded” during the interpretation process. The cultural and language diversity issues needed to be addressed more affirmatively.
Agency Community RolesDeveloping the “Food Safety Tool Box” has required the collaboration of many CHD staff and outside partnerships. Food Safety Program field inspectors, food safety educators, environmental health educators, administrators and supervisors, minority health staff, public information officer and purchasing department staff all played a role in the development process. CHD is responsible for the development and delivery of the Food Safety Tool Box as well as scheduling and teaching three different food safety Workshops on a monthly basis. CHD was also responsible for recruiting and training multilingual food safety instructors to teach the food safety workshops. Outside partnerships were formed with Cultural organizations, Ohio Egg Council, Ohio Poultry Association, Ohio Beef Council, Central Ohio Restaurant Association and the Ohio Grocer’s Association to provide important information to the food operator. CHD has also formed a strong partnership with several cultural organizations that assist in the promotion of CHD’s Food Safety Workshop schedule as well as providing trained staff to teach the language classes. The Columbus Food Safety Advisory Council (FSAC) was established as a partnership between the Columbus Health Department and representatives of the food industry and other interested community parties. It is designed to promote food safety education, discuss and exchange ideas concerning food safety practices and enhance the overall quality of service to the food industry and general public.  Costs and ExpendituresCosts include the production of Food Safety Tool Boxes, Environmental Health Promotion Staff (Two staff members currently teach all of the food safety workshops.), and multilingual Food Safety Instructor Fees. Funding for this project is supported through the NACCHO Food Safety Demonstration Project ($50,000.00), Plan Review Fees, and Retail Food Facility License Fees.  ImplementationTo become proactive it is necessary for CHD’s Food Safety Program to implement these procedures: 1. Supply proper food safety tools to retail food operators before and during licensing such as a copy of the Ohio Uniform Food Code which is based on the 1999 FDA Model Code, food safety employee posters and educational workshops for food employees, especially shift leaders and managers; 2. Provide food safety tools in targeted languages other than English. To this end, CHD will produce and distribute “Food Safety Tool Box” to all licensed food facilities with risk levels 3 & 4; recruit and train bilingual food safety instructors; conduct “Train-the-trainer” sessions for Ohio LPHAs; promote “Food Safety Tool Box” nationally with other LPHAs through NACCHO, at national conferences, and on the Fight BAC! Website; and conduct assessment to determine the effectiveness of the “Food Safety Tool Box.”
To measure the effectiveness of the toolbox, CHD developed an assessment form based on CDC’s five categories of risk factors contributing to foodborne illness. The assessment is designed to measure the level of knowledge of the person-in-charge as well as the demonstration of such knowledge by the food employees. The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) along with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has agreed to act as an outside auditor for the NACCHO grant. The use of a third party auditor provided an unbiased assessment for CHD. Its food safety specialists used the assessment forms to evaluate 100 risk level 3 and 4 licensed food facilities. Facilities were chosen randomly from the following groups: 50 facilities were retail food establishments and the other 50 were food service operations. Both RFE’s and FSO’s were divided accordingly: 25% were nationally corporate owned businesses, 25% were regionally or locally corporate owned businesses, 25% were independently owned businesses and 25% were operated by or employ individuals who do not speak English as their first language. Assessments were conducted prior to the distribution and implementation of the toolbox to licensed veterans. Within 12 months after distribution and implementation, ODA and ODH are currently reassessing the same 100 licensed facilities to evaluate the effectiveness of the toolbox. The drastic reduction of foodborne illness complaints from 2002 to 2003 and the increased attendance of food safety workshops indicate that the effects of food safety education have translated into long-term behavioral change by food employees. The Food Safety Tool Box Project has been worth the total investment. CHD staffs have increased their cultural competency. CHD staff now place a higher importance in communicating food safety procedures in both English and other languages by using the multilingual food safety tool box materials and or a professional interpreter.
SustainabilityThe FSAC has endorsed the Food Safety Tool Box Project and continues to contribute strong support and commitment to the project. This commitment is ensured through industry’s cost savings realized by participating in CHD’s food safety workshops due to free and reduced costs of workshops as compared to current market price. CHD has budgeted funds to provide newly licensed food operators with the Food Safety Tool Box through its Plan Review Fees. Net revenue generated through the ServSafe fees pays for the contracted multilingual food safety instructor’s fees. Key Elements ReplicationEach culture responds differently to attending the food safety workshops, and staff learned how important it was to utilize the partnerships created with the cultural associations within Columbus. Network with these associations when developing multilingual materials. Also, network with restaurant and grocer associations within the community to gain support for the program before implementing it.