In August 1995, a major salmonella outbreak occurred at a restaurant in West Palm Beach, Florida. Over the course of a weekend, more than 300 people became ill. This one event proved to be both the final chapter for the restaurant and a major wake up call for food safety in Florida. In the aftermath of this outbreak, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants began to re-evaluate what it was doing and how it was being done. After looking at its mission and checking its focus, the Division decided change was needed.
As a result of systematic improvements by the Division and restaurants statewide, the number of reported foodborne illness outbreaks in Florida’s restaurants has decreased by 90 percent since 1997. This is a phenomenal number when you consider that there are currently more than 47,000 public food service establishments in Florida, running the gamut from hot dog vendors to high-end restaurants and all points in between. These restaurants feed not only the year-round residents but also the 80 million plus tourists who visit Florida each year.
So, what are the reasons for this remarkable reduction in foodborne outbreaks? Starting in 1997, Florida mandated Food Service Employee Training. This was not job-specific training, but rather a requirement that all employees who handle food receive training in good personal hygiene and foodborne disease prevention.
In addition to the employee training, the 1997 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code was adopted in mid 1998. With this version of the Food Code, emphasis began on the need to eliminate bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food as much as possible and to install extra precautions when it did occur.
In 2000, the Division adopted the 1999 Food Code and followed that with the adoption of the 2001 Food Code in 2005. This year, the 2009 Food Code will become the new standard for the Division. Each subsequent Food Code has added important new science-based safeguards and expanded the duties and responsibilities of management – all improvements that help control the incidence of foodborne illness.