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Food Service Training Promotes Safer Meals
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Eating out should be a pleasure, not a risk. Food safety classes throughout the state target employees in a variety of food service locations.
From casinos, to schools, to day cares, to hospitals and nursing homes -- any place where food is served to the public -- food handlers need to know how to keep the products safe for consumers.
Over a five-year period, 77 percent of the foodborne disease outbreaks reported to the Center of Disease Control were attributed to food service establishments.
With about 16,600 commercial food service businesses in the state, the Cooperative Extension Service, in conjunction with the Mississippi State Department of Health, is seeking to educate food handlers with six hours of intense instruction at no cost to the businesses.
Recent food safety classes were conducted in Columbus by Lowndes County home economist Beverly Lewis and Dr. Melissa Mixon, extension human nutrition specialist at Mississippi State University.
"Continual education on the hazards associated with foodborne illnesses and proper food handling is crucial for all public food establishments," Mixon said. "Providing education for food handlers can be a challenge because of the large number of people involved, the high rate of turnover and the widely varying educational levels."
The nutrition specialist explained that accessibility to quality food safety training is difficult and largely unavailable in rural counties. Many businesses cannot afford the expense of travel, registration fees and time away from work for their employees to attend training meetings in distant cities.
Dutch Mart, Inc. is one company taking advantage of the free training offered through the Extension Service. Dutch Mart supported employees by paying more than 120 labor hours for the time involved in the training.
Martha Hall of Columbus, food service director for Dutch Mart, said the priority on customer satisfaction led her to enroll about 20 employees in the training.
"We knew the food looked good and tasted good; we wanted to be sure it was safe as well," Hall said.
Lewis said the public cannot judge food safety by appearance or smell.
"When you purchase a meal, you have to trust the food was handled, cooked and maintained properly," Lewis said. "It is important for the people behind the counter know how to protect the food until it reaches the consumer."
Hall said Dutch Mart employees from the Columbus and Grenada areas learned safety and handling practices that would prohibit contamination and the importance of temperature control.
"Having trained and certified employees is one way of showing our level of concern about the safety of the food for our customers," Hall said.
"Current employees will benefit from this training, and we will be able to pass along the training materials to future workers as the company continues to grow rapidly," Hall said.