School Foodservice: Perspectives
of Foodservice Directors
Food safety is an issue that is receiving much emphasis in school
foodservice, and there is evidence that the incidence of foodborne illness in
schools is increasing. This trend necessitates the implementation of a Hazard
Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) program in school foodservice operations,
yet to date, only a small number of schools have done so. The purpose of this
study was to determine best practices and HACCP implementation strategies used
in successful school foodservice to serve as the basis for developing a model
HACCP program for school foodservice.
All 50 state directors of child nutrition programs were contacted
by e-mail to provide recommendations of school foodservice directors who had
implemented--or were in the process of implementing--a HACCP program in their
school districts. The 17 district school foodservice directors who were nominated
by state directors were invited to participate in a modified focus group discussion.
Ten directors representing nine states across the nation were able to participate.
Eleven questions were developed related to HACCP implementation, resources,
development, and implementation. These questions were discussed over the course
of approximately 10 hours, in a two-day session.
Directors reported both internal and external factors that prompt
the implementation of HACCP. Individually and as a group, they recognized that
HACCP is a large and important undertaking that requires commitment at all levels
within the school district, and recommended that school districts have a food
safety policy in place to support their HACCP efforts.
Implementation of HACCP is a long process that is most effective
when it is done in slow, progressive steps. Employee involvement, training,
and empowerment are important factors if HACCP is going to be an integral part
of a school foodservice operation.
The importance of food safety and its role in food quality is
well established (Gilmore, Brown, & Dana, 1998), yet it appears that food
safety remains an issue of concern in schools. A recent U.S. Government Accounting
Office (GAO) report (GAO, 2002) indicates that since the early 1990s, the number
of foodborne illness outbreaks is increasing in schools by about 10% per year.
It should be noted that this number may be higher than would be expected because
of new data collection procedures that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) began implementing in 1998. Unfortunately, there is no method to track
the percentage of school-related outbreaks attributed directly to foods prepared
in school meal programs.
Nevertheless, this trend in the number of school foodborne illness
outbreaks demonstrates the necessity for school foodservice operators to implement
Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP) programs. While the need
seems evident, only a minority of district school foodservice operations have
implemented a HACCP program. Hwang, Almanza, and Nelson (2001) found that 13%
of school corporations in Indiana had implemented HACCP, and Giampaoli et al.
(2002) found in a national study that nearly 30% of directors reported to have
Research is available on the implementation of HACCP prerequisite
programs in schools (Youn & Sneed, 2002; Youn & Sneed, 2003), factors
that influence HACCP implementation (Hwang et al., 2001), attitudes and challenges
to implementing HACCP (Giampaoli, Sneed et al., 2002), and food-handling practices
(Giampaoli, Cluskey, & Sneed, 2002). There is no research related to the
process and success of implementing HACCP in school foodservice; therefore,
the purpose of this research was to determine best practices and implementation
strategies for successful school foodservice HACCP programs to serve as the
basis for developing a model HACCP program.
In September 2001, all 50 state directors of child nutrition programs
were contacted by e-mail to provide recommendations of school foodservice directors
who had implemented--or were in the process of implementing--a HACCP program
in their school districts. Seventeen individuals were nominated from 12 states.
Two states responded that they did not have anyone implementing HACCP. Other
state directors did not respond.
Each nominee was mailed a letter of invitation to participate
in a modified focus group discussion. A convenience sample of 10 district school
foodservice directors participated in the focus group. These directors represented
nine states (Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina,
Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin). A representative from the National Food Service
Management Institute (NFSMI), who is involved in developing HACCP programs and
providing HACCP training, also participated in the discussion group.
The modified focus group session was held in November 2001 to
explore best practices and strategies for HACCP implementation. Researchers
developed 11 questions related to HACCP implementation, resources, development,
and implementation. In the discussions, these questions were modified slightly
and other general information important for HACCP program development and implementation
was covered. More questions are included than those developed by the focus group.
More accurately, it is the responses of the focus group that follow.
Group participants spent 10 hours over the course of the two-day
session discussing specific questions. Prior to discussion, the group was divided
in half, and both groups recorded their responses on large sheets of paper that
later were shared with the entire group. The presentation of these small group
responses often elicited further discussion. Researchers used this technique
as a way to ensure that all group members could provide input to all
questions. The purpose of the discussion was to elicit a breadth of information
and ideas, and participants were not asked to provide rankings or ratings for
the various responses.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Questions and responses of the focus group
are as follows:
Question 1: What was the impetus
for beginning a HACCP program in your school district?
The impetus for beginning HACCP varied greatly among the 10 school
foodservice directors, and was both externally and internally driven. The major
external factor was very strict health department requirements in some states/municipalities.
For example, one school district has three inspections per school per year,
as well as an annual HACCP inspection.
Some school foodservice directors were not required to implement
HACCP, but did so for a variety of reasons, such as recognizing how young children
served in the program are particularly vulnerable to foodborne illness and a
fear of the consequences if the district did not have a HACCP program in place.
Comments were made about the fear of making a child sick and being featured
on the front page of the local newspaper. Some participants viewed HACCP as
an insurance policy; without it, school districts have greater liability.
Another factor that influenced HACCP implementation related to
the foodservice system or management requirements of the operation. Two directors
have a centralized foodservice system for which HACCP is imperative. Another
participant worked for a foodservice management company that requires HACCP
and has its own HACCP program.
Several directors indicated that they became interested in HACCP
following the Jack-in-the-Box foodborne illness outbreak in 1993. Thus, that
outbreak appears to have served as a pivotal point in foodservice professionals'
awareness of food safety and the serious consequences of a foodborne illness
Question 2: What resources
did you use to develop your HACCP program?
Resources used by school foodservice directors for developing
HACCP programs generally fit into three categories, as follows:
- Food and foodservice operations were obvious resources.
School foodservice directors looked to other operations for models for implementing
HACCP. Directors visited hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants, and a grocery
store to determine how HACCP was implemented in those operations. One participant
noted that the HACCP materials used in the seafood department of a grocery
store were particularly useful, and another director visited a food manufacturing
plant to observe how it implemented HACCP, and then worked with the quality
assurance department manager to develop HACCP procedures for the district's
school foodservice operation.
- Health departments and universities were important
sources of information about HACCP. Some directors worked closely with the
local health department and sanitarian, while others indicated that the health
department was of little assistance. Interestingly, one district school foodservice
operation actually served as a role model for the health department,
while other directors worked with university faculty and the cooperative extension
service staff on development of HACCP. One school foodservice director worked
with a consultant from a local community college.
- Commercial companies were used in a variety of ways.
Two directors worked for foodservice management companies; one used a corporate-developed
HACCP program and the other used materials developed in her district. Some
directors mentioned that they used materials from the National Restaurant
Association's Educational Foundation or the state's restaurant association.
One director attended Tyson University. Equipment companies (e.g. Cleveland
Range) and chemical companies (e.g. Ecolab and SFSPac) also were useful resources
for directors. One suggestion was to use an outside consultant to keep the
process on track. If time is an issue, consultants might be able to get a
HACCP program launched more expediently because of their expertise. In this
example, the consultant also was able to help in revising documents and recipes,
as a way to avoid increasing employee workload.
Question 3: What recommendations
do you have for developing HACCP resources that are relevant and user-friendly?
The school foodservice directors had several recommendations
for developing HACCP resources. Recommendations related to what resources need
to be developed, as well as to the format/delivery of those resources. Directors
emphasized practicality of resources, making such statements as "focus
on practical applications that are easy to monitor" and "resources
should be operational-focused."
Content of resources. In addition to the standard HACCP
information, directors encouraged researchers not to focus on critical control
point versus control point because they believe that there is only a small difference
in definition between these and the distinction is confusing to employees. The
directors indicated that there was a need to develop written standard operating
procedures. In addition to HACCP content, directors indicated that there was
a need for educational materials related to processes such as leadership and
decisionmaking. These materials would help directors focus on improving employee
Format/Delivery of resources. Directors recommended that
- Develop the following components: samples of forms, lesson
plans, self-assessment checklists, and scenarios;
- Develop 10-minute food safety inservice training programs
that include an activity;
- Use a corporate approach by conducting group meetings, encouraging
sharing among directors, and providing materials on a diskette/CD in a word-processing
- Develop different resources for different audiences; and
- Develop materials so that they integrate
into existing procedures. For example, directors recommended that HACCP components
be added to existing computer software systems.
Question 4: What content
is needed for HACCP education/resource materials?
School foodservice directors were aware of the HACCP educational
materials available from the National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI).
They believed that more information/emphasis is needed in other areas including
procurement, handling reports of foodborne illness, and training.
Procurement. Materials should provide boilerplate language
for specifications, requesting that all vendors send a letter indicating that
they have a HACCP program in place or follow good manufacturing procedures (GMPs).
Materials also should advise operators to check all delivery trucks for proper
temperature and cleanliness.
Handling reports of foodborne illness. Directors believe
that it is imperative for each school district to develop a crisis management
plan, which includes how to respond to an individual who is reporting a foodborne
illness and the steps to take in the process. It was noted that the first person
who interacts with the reporter of the incident is pivotal, and there needs
to be a focus on how that individual should deal with the situation.
Training. Directors indicated that there is a need to
document training sessions with tests and sign-in sheets. Thus, these resources
would be useful for school foodservice directors.
Question 5: What is the most
effective method to disseminate HACCP education materials?
There are several groups of individuals who should be involved
in the dissemination of HACCP education materials. Those groups include state
agencies, professional organizations, and computer software companies. It was
suggested that researchers work with state agencies to develop a list of resources
that are already available. Once new resources are available, it is important
to inform state agencies because they need to "push" HACCP and resources.
Additionally, directors indicated that it is important to coordinate
with other organizations to post information about HACCP resources on their
Web sites. These organizations include state agencies, NFSMI, and the American
School Food Service Association (ASFSA). They also suggested working with the
Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) and ASFSA's state
affiliates to implement HACCP in schools.
It was suggested that existing computer software programs, such
as NutriKids, incorporate HACCP steps. Thus, a need for HACCP information and
documentation in software programs must be communicated to software companies.
Question 6: What are your
recommendations for implementing HACCP?
School foodservice directors emphasized that HACCP implementation
is a process that is never complete. They stated that HACCP should be practical
to apply, employee-focused, and implemented in stages. New
foodservice equipment, both large and small, may be needed to support HACCP.
Practical. Directors stressed that HACCP and HACCP components
need to be planned so that they are practical. They stressed that HACCP cannot
be a manual that "sits on a shelf."
Employee-focused. School foodservice directors also stressed
the need to instill standards and expectations (e.g. a sense of pride) in staff,
and do this in a positive manner. The directors mentioned the need to empower
staff to make decisions related to HACCP and food safety.
They discussed the need to include HACCP implementation or other
food safety practices as criteria for evaluating employees. Foodservice managers
need to discipline employees who do not follow food safety standard operating
procedures. Because of this, staff training is important. One director mentioned
the need to rotate staff and cross-train them to work in different areas.
Directors also referenced the need to seek feedback from employees
on the HACCP program, asking them what does and does not work in the way it
has been implemented. In one example, a foodservice director printed off recipes
and asked employees to record what differences in actual preparation procedures
compared to the standardized recipe, a process she called "red-lining."
Such feedback facilitates changes for the future, and will become more rapid.
There must be a process in place to review and incorporate such feedback.
Implement in stages. The directors participating in the
focus group stressed the need to implement a HACCP program in stages with a
slow and steady progression. For example, one district used a three-stage process
to begin HACCP:
- Stage 1: Training, using thermometers, and recording
- Stage 2: Using all charts, initial them, and adding HACCP
steps to recipes.
- Stage 3: Posting of all logs on equipment, etc.
In another district, a few targets were selected for the first
year, with the first target being the institution of temperature logs. It appears
that taking employees through the process in small, achievable steps is preferred
to "rolling out" a complete HACCP program that might overwhelm employees
who are expected to implement the system.
Directors recommended that school districts have a district-wide
food safety policy. They also mentioned the need to market HACCP to school administrators
(superintendents and school business officials), as well as to such groups as
the national and state ASBOs. Additionally, there is a need to consider new
resources, such as portable handwashing stations. One director mentioned that
"gadgets," such as digital thermometers, often motivate employees
to implement tasks related to HACCP. Student perceptions of the food (is hot
food hot, cold food cold?) also should be determined.
Question 7: How much time
is required to implement HACCP?
School foodservice directors indicated that the time required
for HACCP implementation is very difficult to estimate and varies greatly among
operations. In addition, because HACCP implementation is an ongoing process,
all foodservice directors who participated in the focus group believe they still
have more to do. They indicated that extensive preparation is required to implement
HACCP and this can be very time consuming. Furthermore, the starting point (Are
prerequisite programs in place? What components of a HACCP program are in place?)
for HACCP implementation in an operation impacts the time required. They recommended
that an assessment tool could be used to evaluate the school district and form
the basis for developing goals. They stressed that HACCP goals must be reevaluated
Focus group participants have been working on HACCP implementation
from one to six years. It took one district three years to get recipes and a
food flow chart completed. One director emphasized that grouping items to develop
procedures is one effective method that can be used to save time.
Question 8: How will we know
that school districts have implemented HACCP?
School foodservice directors indicated that schools that have
implemented a HACCP program will have several components in place (
Question 9: What challenges
did you face in developing and implementing your HACCP program?
Challenges in developing and implementing a HACCP program were
related to the following:
- State/local health departments: Directors perceived
state and local health departments to have an inconsistent understanding and
application of HACCP.
- Employee issues: Several employee issues may pose challenges.
One such challenge is employee attitude. It is critical to get staff to "buy
in" to the program. There often is the mindset that "we haven't
made anyone sick, so we must be doing everything right," or "Why
change?" Another factor is that employee self-esteem often is low. Time/responsibility
of employees is yet another challenge. Employees think that HACCP is an additional
responsibility and that they do not have time to implement such a program.
Also, the employee union may request more time for employees to do HACCP-related
tasks. The ability of employees to make good decisions may be limited, and
employees often are not empowered to make good decisions. Many school foodservice
operations have employees with limited reading ability, which creates a comprehension
problem with much of the in-depth HACCP information. High employee turnover
rates, limited dedication of staff members, and the lack of understanding
about the need to document are other employee challenges.
- School culture: The school culture also may present
challenges. Sometimes there are negative perceptions by teachers and staff
who compare school foodservice operations with outside foodservice operations--often,
there is a double standard. The culture of the community and the school may
not be supportive. Other departments, such as custodians and teachers, may
impact the foodservice operation. In some districts, employees may be both
cooks and bus drivers.
- The foodservice system's structure:
There are instances when the school and foodservice systems are so structured
that it limits an employee's ability and willingness to make decisions. Also,
there is a major time commitment to implementing HACCP. Directors need time
for training employees and for developing, implementing, and monitoring
HACCP implementation; and that time may be limited.
Cost issues also are a challenge, especially as they relate to
current meal prices. Often, there is a need to replace equipment and purchase
items such as thermometers. Also, there is need for financial support for secretarial
services, printing, etc., that can be time consuming and costly.
Other issues, such as defining HACCP, keeping processes current,
and knowing where to begin and end can be frustrating challenges for directors,
as well as for employees. Another challenge is that procedures and forms do
not always work out the first time. For example, one district reported that
they changed the format of their recipes four times to ensure clarity.
What advantages are there to having a HACCP program?
It was interesting to note that school foodservice directors
participating in this discussion were very positive about HACCP and indicated
many advantages to having a HACCP program implemented in their districts. HACCP
programs can save money and time and can improve quality. Specific ways that
money and time were saved in the districts of directors in this study were as
- Decreased food waste occured because less food was
discarded due to the lack of documentation of how long it was in the temperature
danger zone. There can be savings in power outage situations if temperature
monitoring is done (e.g. a data logger does continuous temperature monitoring),
and some equipment purchases may not be needed if temperature can be controlled
with existing equipment.
- Data from the monitoring process can be used to document the
need for new equipment or equipment repairs.
- Work methods can change (for example, using cart covers rather
than covering individual pans).
- The process of standardizing recipes resulted in cost
savings because both preparation steps and critical control points were reduced,
or the time the food was at the critical control point was reduced.
Question 11: What motivates
employees to follow HACCP?
Four motivators that emerged from the discussion were professionalism,
pride, scare tactics, and guilt. Training was used as the vehicle for communicating
these motivators to employees and encouraging them to implement food safety
practices and a HACCP program. Examples of strategies used by foodservice directors
are summarized in Figure 2.
Directors indicated that they often find it a challenge to "prove"
that school foodservice employees are professionals, both to the employee and
to others. They believe that having a HACCP program is one indicator of professionalism.
Other strategies that have been tried included explaining the
seriousness of HACCP and following up with employees on related rules. The directors
suggested seeking ways to make it "cool" to do HACCP. Directors have
issued pins, nametags, and ribbons as motivators, as well as providing jewel
pins to managers.
Foodservice directors indicated that they avoid using the term
HACCP because it can be intimidating. Instead, they focus on upgrading food
safety standards. Developing supervisor skills (in HACCP, training, employee
motivation, etc.) is critical for a HACCP program to be successful.
Throughout the discussion sessions, important ideas were expressed
that did not relate specifically to the questions. Following are some specific
recommendations of or comments by the school foodservice directors:
Establishing a school food safety policy. When crafting
such a policy, school foodservice directors should include such information
- Who has keys to the kitchen?
- Who can serve food in cafeteria? Must there be a person certified
in food safety on site during the preparation and service of food?
- What foods may be served in the classroom? Can food
be brought from home?
The directors identified other tips to consider when implementing
- Avoid using the term HACCP if possible. Use "food
safety," "food quality," or other generic term.
- Educate yourself on food safety and HACCP issues. Make sure
you have a good understanding of what is and is not part of a HACCP program.
- Work closely with health department staff members. Use processes
and equipment that they recommend.
- Look at the "big picture" and prioritize tasks.
Make sure early steps are fully in place before moving on to later steps.
- Monitor the availability of resources (What new equipment
or "gadgets" are available? What works?). Purchase infrared thermometers
- The focus should not be on recipe flow charts. Generally,
they are a waste of time and are irrelevant to what is done on a daily basis.
- Prepare a facility food flow chart
- Everyone in the operation needs to be involved in the food
safety process at the appropriate time. Some directors believe that
it is not necessary to involve line employees in the initial system development.
CONCLUSIONS AND APPLICATIONS
Questions presented in this paper are likely to be those that
would be asked by any foodservice director considering HACCP implementation
or by individuals or organizations (such as NFSMI or ASFSA) who are developing
educational materials to support HACCP implementation in schools. Results of
this discussion show that HACCP implementation is a large and important undertaking
that requires commitment at all levels within a school district.
School foodservice directors should work with school administrators
to develop a school-wide food safety policy if there is not already such a policy
in their school districts. It seems that such a policy would provide a strong
foundation for overall food safety for students and for the implementation of
HACCP, not only for school meals but for other foods eaten in the school (in
the classroom, at fundraising and sports events, and at group meetings).
School foodservice directors who have implemented--or are in
the process of implementing--a HACCP program, have used many resources in the
process. Sharing these will provide useful information for directors who are
just starting the process. Results from this focus group provide some realistic
expectations for foodservice directors about planning and implementing HACCP
that may make the process easier. Directors in the study agreed that HACCP is
an ongoing process that is most effective if undertaken in slow, progressive
steps. Employee involvement, training, and empowerment are keys to making HACCP
an integral part of a school foodservice operation.
This research project was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) Cooperative States Research, Education, and Extension Service, Project
No. 2001-51110-11371. The mention of trade or company names does not mean endorsement.
The contents are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily
represent the views of USDA. We would like to thank and acknowledge the contributions
of the participants of the focus group discussion.
Giampaoli, J., Sneed, J., Clusky, M., & Koenig, H.F. (2002).
School foodservice directors' attitudes and perceived challenges to implementing
food safety and HACCP programs. The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management,
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Giampaoli, J., Clusky, M., & Sneed, J. (2002). Developing
a practical audit tool for assessing employee food-handling practices. The
Journal of Child Nutrition & Management, 26 (1). Retrieved June 20,
2002, from http://docs.schoolnutrition.org/newsroom/jcnm/02spring/giampaoli2/
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vigilance needed to ensure safety of school meals (GAO-02-669T). Washington,
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to implementing food safety practices in school foodservice. The Journal
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prerequisite programs in school foodservice. Journal of the American Dietetic
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Sneed and Henroid are, respectively,
professor and extension specialist, Hotel, Restaurant, and Institution Management,
Iowa State University, Ames, IA.