The FDA Model Food Code is the basis for all retail food safety inspections. The food code goes into detail regarding food service regulations to prevent foodborne illness. One critical component of food safety is rapid cooling of cooked foods which, according to the food code, requires getting food through the temperature danger zone of 135oF- 41oF in less than six hours. If food is in that temperature danger zone for longer than six hours, the risk of exposure to agents of gastrointestinal illnesses increases significantly. Due to the extended duration of the temperature danger zone, inspectors are forced to solely evaluate cooling methods applied during the cooling process, at a single point in time. Without several time and temperature data points, it becomes an informed guess as to whether the food will cool properly or not. The City of Minneapolis Environmental Health team created a method to precisely assess the cooling techniques utilized by restaurant operators to reduce the risk of exposure to pathogens.
Health inspection report data has informed the City of Minneapolis Environmental Health team the current commonly accepted practice of evaluating cooling techniques without data is insufficient in preventing and managing the risk of improper cooling. Utilizing ongoing risk factor analysis, we found within most inspection reports; inspectors are not observing the cooling of cooked foods; however, when they do observe the cooling of cooked foods, inspectors are noting cooling as out of compliance at a substantial rate. Due to this discrepancy, we set a priority to improve our methods for observing cooling from start to finish without the burden of an inspector being present for the entire process.
"Focusing on cooling techniques that are the most impactful will lead to the creation of a practical model available for inspectors to use daily in the field."
To accomplish this feat, we procured data loggers and logging software that are not typically available within health department budgets. The data loggers procured were
highly sophisticated thermometers with the ability to take and log time and temperature readings during customized time intervals. These data loggers can be submerged in both extremely hot and cold environments as well as wet and dry conditions. The data logger software converts the time and temperature readings into workable data points that can be exported to various data analytic platforms. We leveraged access to this new technology into a research study, which allowed us to better consult and educate operators, particularly those struggling while enabling us to have more specific and informed interventions during the cooling process.
After completion of the research study, regression analysis will be used to identify which specific cooling techniques impact the rate of cooling the most. Focusing on cooling techniques that are the most impactful will lead to the creation of a practical model available for inspectors to use daily in the field. This model will allow inspectors to independently assess the strength of specific observed cooling methods while minimizing the time spent during the inspection. Beyond the benefits to the regulatory industry, restaurants operators have benefited from this new application of technology as they are now operating with increased confidence in the techniques they use for cooling cooked foods. This win-win situation for both those regulating and those being regulated has enhanced trust and relationship building between the two groups reinforcing sustainable positive public health practices.