Effect of food safety training on food safety behaviors and microbial findings in Texas childcare centers

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Staskel, Deanna Marie

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Research has demonstrated a relationship between inadequate childcare center sanitation and illnesses in children. Limited research is available regarding food safety training in childcare centers. The objectives of this research project conducted in a sample of Texas childcare centers was to: 1) assess the sanitation level of food contact surfaces and areas of potential cross-contamination by recovery and identification of selected enteric, gram-negative bacteria; 2) to evaluate food safety attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors of cooks in childcare centers; and 3) to evaluate the effect of a food safety training class on the microbial findings and the food safety behaviors of cooks. Validated instruments were used to collect data on attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge of foodservice personnel in 35 childcare centers. Baseline attitudinal data demonstrated 100% of foodservice personnel agreed or strongly agreed that food safety was part of their responsibilities and food safety education is important. Baseline knowledge test scores ranged 40% to 90% (mean = 70.97%) with 50% achieving a passing score. Baseline (visit 1) and 12 month follow-up (visit2) site visits were made to collect microbial data on six foodservice surfaces and to observe food safety behaviors. Baseline microbial results showed 41% percent (68 of 167) of total swab samples collected tested positive for bacteria. Twenty-seven different types of bacteria were identified from positive swab samples. Most of the bacteria found are considered opportunistic pathogens which can pose serious health risks to those with compromised immune systems, such as young children. Intervention included a food safety class which was attended by 47% of the centers. Attendance did not significantly affect the food safety assessment scores from visit 1 to visit 2. Use of thermometers, properly labeling foods, hand washing, and recording of refrigerator temperatures all decreased by visit 2. Bacterial species numbers were greater by visit 2 on garbage can lids, food carts, and refrigerator handles. This study confirmed an overall lack of compliance with food safety standards and the need for continual food safety training and stronger standards for childcare centers.