Essential tools for food safety surveillance in catering services: On-site inspections and control of high risk cross-contamination surfaces
The aim of this study was to assess the routine food safety procedures carried out in catering services so as to provide a useful monitoring program for managers based on the relevant deviations detected in the observational survey and activities carried out in 15 catering services located in Navarra (region of northern Spain). The main hygiene standards, food handler practices and compliance with the HACCP system were evaluated by means of visual inspections (checklist), monitoring of critical control points (food storage and food processing temperatures, total polar compounds) and microbiological analysis of food-contact and hand-contact surfaces. While general high scores were obtained in the observational survey (73.3% above 36 points), none of the evaluated services had obtained the maximum rate of 48 points. The mayor deficiencies were related to the presence of dirty uniforms, improper hand washing or use of gloves, incorrect disinfection of vegetables and the missing records of stated critical points (temperatures and polar compounds in oil). The performed monitoring activities confirmed the safety of frying oil in all the kitchens, despite the fact that only 33% of them applied scientific methods to measure polar compounds. By contrast, holding temperatures were unsatisfactory in 77% of cold dishes and in 19% of hot meals. Despite the fact that 77% of food contact surfaces were considered acceptable (<4 CFU/cm2), high levels of total mesophilic microorganisms and Enterobacteriaceae were detected in hand-contact surfaces such as aprons and handles. The periodic visual supervision focusing on hygienic practices and the microbiological surveillance of surfaces of high risk for cross-contamination should provide valuable information for improving the knowledge, attitudes and practices of food handlers regarding food safety.