How Penn State handles a food recall

An issue making headlines these days is the highly publicized food recall involving eggs in the United States and the more than 1,000 cases of salmonella reported. The tainted eggs have not reached Pennsylvania and Penn State Campus Dining is following its well-established procedures for monitoring and responding to food issues that might affect its services. 

When a food recall occurs anywhere in the United States, an immediate e-mail is sent to all food service operations at all Penn State campuses alerting management to a potential issue, said Lisa Wandel, director of Residential Dining. If the food item is in their inventory, the food is immediately pulled from use until further notification.

"We always err on the side of caution," Wandel said. "Penn State has more than 30,000 on-campus diners and it's our job to ensure the safety of their food. At our end, safe food handling, preparation and storage are essential to the prevention of food-borne illness."

A food-borne illness is a disease that is carried and/or transmitted to people from food. Although any type of food can become contaminated, most food-borne illnesses are transmitted through food in which microorganisms are able to grow rapidly. Reports of contaminated foods over the past decade have included spinach, tomatoes and peanut butter.

Penn State has an arsenal of safety precautions to help prevent food-borne illness from affecting its community. Staff training, regular inspections and purchasing from reliable food sources have been integral in the prevention of disease.

"It's imperative that we stay on top of information on food-related topics and the latest methods and research related to safe food handling and preparation," Wandel said.

Every full-time employee in Campus Dining is Serve Safe certified, a program sponsored by the National Restaurant Association (NRA). The food services professionals take a two-day course organized by the NRA's education foundation. Every five years, the employees must get recertified. All part-time employees are required to pass an online food handler course within 14 days of employment.

Penn State's fully trained staff makes any unannounced inspections by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture less daunting. The annual visit from department representatives involves the close inspection of all campus dining locations, their equipment and procedures. Additionally each Campus Dining location is inspected -- also unannounced -- each semester by a trained team of sanitation inspectors, and monthly by in-house staff.

"We are confident about our practices and having a dedicated, trained staff keeps us ready," Wandel said. "But talking food safety, it all starts with purchasing from reliable food sources -- and we are very conscious of who and where we are getting our food."

Food purchased by Campus Dining is required to meet certain specifications set by Penn State's Purchasing Department before it can be accepted at the University's warehouse. These standards deal with food origin, how it is transported and the overall quality of the item. Campus Dining has programs in place that focus on purchasing from local and state companies, a system that not only supports Pennsylvania businesses, but also enhances communication with the companies where Penn State obtains its food.

"Being prepared is the ultimate defense against food borne illnesses," Wandel said. "We have a strong system in place and it helps us be ready."

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Last Updated September 16, 2010