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3 steps to cleaner hands, safer food: Learn, develop, implement

Opinion

Editor’s note: The outbreak referenced in this meeting coverage was linked to a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Simi Valley, CA, and sickened an estimated 230 to 1,500 people, according to public health officials.

Council meetings at the bi-annual Conference for Food Protection meeting turned to hand washing and norovirus this past weekend as a 2015 outbreak became a case in point for discussion purposes.

Attendees at the Council III meeting Sunday at the Conference for Food Protection bi-annual meeting discussed hand washing guidelines and policy. (Photo by Jim Mann)

Attendees at the Council III meeting Sunday at the Conference for Food Protection bi-annual meeting discussed hand washing guidelines and policy. (Photo by Jim Mann)

The Conference for Food Protection brings together representatives from the food industry, government, academia, and consumer organizations to identify and address emerging problems of food safety and to formulate recommendations.

Proper hand washing is one of the primary defenses against the spread of foodborne pathogens. Norovirus quickly took center stage as a target pathogen during the council meeting Sunday as participants reflected on the outcomes of the 2015 Simi Valley California outbreak.

Restaurants generally have policies in place to restrict ill workers, but the industry and other stakeholders have learned infected customers are a major source of norovirus entry into the dining space.

Every day, restaurants are also challenged by the presence of asymptomatic workers, making frequent hand washing a business-critical intervention.

Development of hand washing policy and guidance unfortunately suffered a major setback when the Hand Hygiene Committee reported a dead end to their two years of diligent work.

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The group recommended disbanding the committee while two sub-agencies of the Food and Drug Administration — CFSAN and CDER — work out and send forth a standard of effectiveness for a traditional soap-water hand washing. This pause presented a chilling implementation irony in that all the previous norovirus-related science pointed to raising hand washing standards and suddenly the stakeholders had no base to build on.

If this hiatus continues, some attendees at the Conference for Food Protection say it will be a major disincentive for research by academia and industry.

Until there is agreement between FDA’s two sub-agencies — the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) — on what to punish as the new standard of effectiveness for hand washing little movement is expected.

The Conference for Food Protection is managed by an executive board that includes 23 voting members who represent: state food regulatory agencies from each of the FDA regions; local food regulatory agencies from each of the FDA regions; the FDA; USDA/FSIS; the CDC, the food industry; an academic institution; and consumers.

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