(Oct. 21) WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Food and Drug Administration study of food safety at retail, foodservice and institutional settings points out some trouble spots for produce food safety.

However, industry sources said the FDA’s template for evaluating food safety at retail — the agency’s model food code — does not always readily translate to the produce department.

“Certainly there is a concern with the entire supply chain. What this report tells us as an industry is that we have to be cognizant of food safety from farm to fork,” said Jennifer Tong, director of food safety and nutrition research for the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association.

Kathy Means, vice president of government relations for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said the study will be valuable for retailers to consider what is and what is not applicable.

“Each operation should take a look at this study and ask if it applies to them,” she said.

Tong said the study examined compliance with the FDA’s model food code, but she noted that not every state has adopted the FDA’s model.

“The information gathering is good, and it may give lessons to where the retail side may want to focus their efforts,” she said.

The study, released in September and available at www.fda.gov, tracked risk factors in retail produce departments. The study measured compliance on issues such as holding time and temperature, poor personal hygiene, contaminated equipment, chemical or other factors and food from unsafe sources.

Using those risk factors, the FDA observed 49.3% of 201 retail produce departments had improper holding times and temperatures. About 22% were out of compliance with hygiene standards, 20% had contaminated equipment, 14% had other chemical risks and 1.9% had food from unsafe sources.

The FDA study said date marking of refrigerated, ready-to-eat fresh-cut produce should be carefully watched.

“Discarding ready-to-eat (perishable fresh-cut) produce that has remained in cold storage beyond the parameters described in the food code prevents foods with a harmful level of Listeria monocytogenes from being served,” the report said.

The FDA said that while personal hygiene needs to be improved in retail produce departments, there has been progress. For example, 87.1% of retailers studied had a specific effort to prevent direct hand contamination with product.

“The retail food management in produce departments appears to be making a concerted effort to eliminate bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods,” the study said.

About 44% of the produce departments studied were out of compliance in standards for cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces and utensils, the FDA said.

Regarding the chemical risk factor in the produce department, the FDA said all of the 19% of retailers out of compliance lacked adequate safety procedures related to the handling of cleaners, sanitizers and other chemicals used in the produce department.

The FDA study noted that 44% of retail produce departments had a certified food protection manager, compared with 80% of hospital and 71% of fast-food restaurants.

Having a certified food protection manager on hand results in a 7.6% increase in compliance with food safety standards, compared with retail produce departments without a food protection manager.

In its recommendations and conclusions, the FDA said that both the industry and government regulators need to do a better job in minimizing food safety problems.

”Industry effort to achieve active managerial control over these risk factors, and to adequately train employees, still needs to be improved,” the FDA report said.

In addition, the FDA noted that “regulatory agencies need to do more to effect change in the food safety practices and behaviors in foodservice and retail food establishments.”

Means agreed that retailers should have a person responsible for food safety, whether or not that person is formally certified.