Letter From The Editor: Extreme heat danger and food safety: what could go wrong?

By Dan Flynn on August 18, 2019


Usually, my way of dealing with summer heat is to not move around much during the day. This summer, I’ve broken from my routine by actually traveling to areas of the country where TV weatherman report on something called the “heat index.”

The “heat index” does not come up much in Colorado. Oh, it gets hot during the day, but it cools off at night. And, everyone will tell you: “It’s a dry heat.”

But, the “heat index” revolves around humidity and we don’t get much of that. That’s mostly a good thing, except when high winds, low humidity, and heat combine to increase fire danger.

But I have ventured out this summer to such “heat index” centers as Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri. In these states, the “heat index” is a better measure than just relying on the temperature because it tells how hot it feels when relative humidity considered in the mix.

As an example, if the air temperature is 96°F and the relative humidity is 65%, the heat index (how hot it feels) is 121°F.

Classification Heat Index

Caution                     80°F – 90°F

Extreme Caution      90°F – 103°F

Danger                     103°F – 124°F

Extreme Danger      125°F or higher

So, as I found myself moving around the ground in places experiencing danger and extreme danger, it did get me thinking. There must be some food safety implications to such intense heat. It does not even cool off much at night.

When I returned to altitude (i.e., Colorado), I was pondering these thoughts about the heat index and food safety. And then I came across an email from Ed Noe, VP for Purchasing & Marketing with Lawrence, MA-based Colony Foods.

Noe was copying Bill Marler, Coral Beach and I on a letter he wrote to the leadership of the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA).

Noe wants IFDA Board members to join “the crusade” to educate consumers and fix language in the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.

The FSMA groups as retail “cash and carry outlets” for the restaurant industry. “I would suggest when someone thinks of retail, there is a vision of a person shopping and transporting perishables to their residences,” Noe writes.

“They have full knowledge of how the food has been handled and assume the personal risk or the risk for their family and friends if pathogens have been allowed to grow because of temperature abuse,” he adds.

Noe calls out restaurants that accept delivery of perishables transported in car trunks and unrefrigerated vans.

“Would you subject yourself, family or friends, to eating in a restaurant you knew transported fresh proteins on a 90-degree day in the trunk of a car?” asks Noe.

Noe is a “picture says a thousand words” kind of guy. He provided the links below to the  Fox 25 Boston Investigative Reports that tell the story.

  1.   https://www.boston25news.com/news/raw-meat-perishables-being-left-in-hot-cars-on-the-way-to-restaurants/973894580
  2. https://www.boston25news.com/video?videoId=974381212&videoVersion=1.0

With the danger and extreme danger warnings from those heat index reports, while I was traveling fresh in my mind, I asked Noe just how common are these shoddy practices. Noe says it’s not really tracked. But there are commercial establishments that have opted to become their own distributor. He says they are not maintaining protocols for proper temperatures during transportation of perishables. They are “breaking the cold chain” and “placing unsuspected consumers at risk.”

IFDA is the principal trade association for the $280 billion foodservice distribution industry. It’s 350,000 employees delivered 8.7 billion cases of food last year, about one-third of those are truck drivers whose rigs keep careful track of time and temperature.

If local restaurant inspections started asking questions about how fresh meat and other perishables are getting to the outlet, it might help.

One thing is for certain. All the inspections are for naught if the fresh product was held in a heated truck or van prior to delivery at the restaurant.   This is a local problem. However, Noe is correct. It is an issue that needs a national advocate. FDA is damn good at calling attention to national problems. This is one Frank Yiannas needs to start talking up.

Article via Food Safety News