New Iowa Department of Inspection and Appeals guidelines went into effect Jan. 1 requiring food establishments to designate a Certified Food Protection Manager to oversee the safe handling, preparation, and service of food items.
To meet the expected demand, specialists with Human Sciences Extension and Outreach will offer more than 100 ServSafe courses across the state. ServSafe trains employees in food sanitation and instructs them on how to prevent foodborne illnesses.
Barbara Fuller, a nutrition and health program specialist who works in Red Oak, serves southwest Iowa and co-coordinates the program for extension and outreach. She said she has seen an increase in interest in the courses since the new guidelines were announced.
“Already the new licensees are calling,” Fuller said. “They have been told that this is a new requirement when they apply. Others are also starting to send more people to classes.”
Catherine Strohbehn, an extension specialist overseeing Iowa State’s retail food safety programs, anticipates that more than 1,000 Iowans will take the course.
Need for certification
About half of every dollar spent on food in America is spent on food prepared away from the home, according to the Agricultural Research Service at the United States Department of Agriculture.
“More people are involved in food handling and every time people are involved with food there is that potential for contamination – the human element,” said Strohbehn, who’s also an adjunct professor in apparel, events, and hospitality management.
The state previously required restaurants and other food establishments to demonstrate good food safety practices, but did not require certification. A media release from the Department of Inspections notes that research in Iowa and across the country indicates that those with a Certified Food Protection Manager on staff are less likely to have violations that could lead to foodborne illness.
“ServSafe is a way for those involved in food preparation and service to communicate to their customers that they don’t just talk about food safety, they are committed to it,” Strohbehn said. “It can ruin a business to have a hint of someone getting sick at a location.”
A well-respected training program
ServSafe is one of four nationally recognized food sanitation-training programs designed for food service managers. Strohbehn calls ServSafe the “granddaddy” of all food safety programs.
“It is a well-recognized program,” she said. “We have been offering it a while, since the early 1990s, and we have a good reputation and a strong pass rate.”
ServSafe participants attend an eight-hour class and must pass the national exam to receive certification. The cost is $150, including the book and exam. The course was developed by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and is offered in partnership with the Iowa Restaurant Association. Instructors also involve local health inspectors in the trainings.
The training assists restaurant managers as well as healthcare food service managers, childcare providers, schools, food service
workers, temporary food establishments and food entrepreneurs. While childcare facilities, nursing homes and temporary foodestablishments are encouraged to have staff attend the course, it is required for schools, caterers, assisted living facilities, and most hospitals, in addition to restaurants.
Strohbehn calculates the annual pass rate for the course offered by Iowa State Extension and Outreach staff to be around 90 percent. She attributes this success to the 13 nutrition and health program specialists who provide the training.
Missy Sanson took advantage of the course last year, shortly after she bought Three C’s Diner in Corning. She said the information she learned has been invaluable as she operates the restaurant.
“I had no experience in restaurants, so I felt like I really needed the class,” Sanson said. “I kept the book and still refer back to it.”
Sanson said she is sending other employees to take the course as well, even though it is not required.
Sharing research-based methods
ServSafe training is just one part of the larger food safety programming at Iowa State. The training is used in curriculum for hospitality management classes.
“This is an example of a program that is used in outreach educational efforts and also used internally in academic educational efforts,” Strohbehn said. “Efforts like these are how we share research-based findings across the state.”
Catherine Strohbehn, state extension specialist, adjunct professor, Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management, 515-294-3527, firstname.lastname@example.org
Barbara Fuller, nutrition and health program specialist, Human Sciences Extension and Outreach, 614-202-1843, email@example.com
Missy Sanson, owner, Three C’s Diner, 641-322-3299
Tara Lackey, writer, College of Human Sciences, Iowa State University, 515-294-9424, firstname.lastname@example.org