Evaluation of prerequisite programs implementation and hygiene practices at social food services through audits and microbiological surveillance
Prerequisite programs are considered the most efficient tool for a successful implementation of self-control systems to ensure food safety. The main objective of this study was to evaluate the implementation of these programs in 15 catering services located in Navarra and the Basque Country (regions in northern Spain), through on-site audits and microbiological analyses. The implementation of the prerequisite program was incomplete in 60% of the sample. The unobserved temperature control during both the storage and preparation of meals in 20% of the kitchens reveals misunderstanding in the importance of checking these critical control points. A high level of food safety and hygiene (absence of pathogens) was observed in the analyzed meals, while 27.8% of the tested surfaces exceeded the established limit for total mesophilic aerobic microorganisms (¿100 CFU/25 cm²). The group of hand-contact surfaces (oven door handles and aprons) showed the highest level of total mesophilic aerobic microorganisms and Enterobacteriaceae, and the differences observed with respect to the food-contact surfaces (work and distribution utensils) were statistically significant (P < 0.001). With regard to the food workers' hands, lower levels of microorganisms were observed in the handlers wearing gloves (that is, for Staphylococcus spp we identified 43 CFU/cm2 on average compared with 4 CFU/cm2 (P < 0.001) for those not wearing and wearing gloves, respectively). For a proper implementation of the prerequisites, it is necessary to focus on attaining a higher level of supervision of activities and better hygiene training for the food handlers, through specific activities such as informal meetings and theoretical-practical sessions adapted to the characteristics of each establishment.