HOSPITAL CONSULTANT STEPS UP FOOD SAFETY AT FESTIVAL

ONALASKA, Wis. -- Festival Foods here has cooked up an unusual deal with a nearby hospital that ensures it has the services of a food-safety expert on an as-needed basis.The six-unit independent contracted last fall with Lutheran Gundersen Hospital in nearby LaCrosse to tap into the knowledge and experience of one of the hospital's consulting dietitians, Faye Moseley Rezin, RDCD, on a regular basis.

ONALASKA, Wis. -- Festival Foods here has cooked up an unusual deal with a nearby hospital that ensures it has the services of a food-safety expert on an as-needed basis.

The six-unit independent contracted last fall with Lutheran Gundersen Hospital in nearby LaCrosse to tap into the knowledge and experience of one of the hospital's consulting dietitians, Faye Moseley Rezin, RDCD, on a regular basis. Moseley Rezin keeps a watch on Festival's perishables departments, particularly its prepared foods operation, and is on call for any food-safety issue that might arise.

As Festival continued to develop a full-fledged, prepared foods program, involving on-site production and 8- and 12-foot hot bars over the past three years, it saw the need for an employee with an extensive food-safety background, said Dave Skogen, owner of the company that operates three stores under the Festival banner and three under Skogen's IGA.

As a result, the retailer hired a full-timer [see "Festival Foods Names Safety Official," SN 01/10/00] but found that there was not enough work for her at such a small company, he said.

"Now we have one of Lutheran Gundersen's staff people part-time. She has an office here where she can maintain her files," Skogen said.

It works well for Festival because it gives the company all it needs, without generating unwieldy costs, Skogen added.

"She's as up-to-speed as our full-time person was. It's just that she doesn't put in as many hours."

Marlin Greenfield, chief operating officer, agrees: "Food safety is the premier concern for any of us, and we felt we needed to have an expert who has food safety as their priority. This solution has been terrific because we have only a part-time cost associated with it."

The dollar investment is obviously smaller than it would be to have a full-time food safety expert on staff, and yet, if an urgent question or potential crisis were to come up, Moseley Rezin is Festival's answer, Skogen pointed out. She's on call to handle such things, as well as spending time training Festival's employees in food-safety basics and conducting random store inspections.

The retailer pays the hospital directly for her time. On average, Moseley Rezin said she puts in 16 hours a month for Festival. She addresses the retailer's sales managers and directors at their regular meetings and also monitors food-handling practices.

Greenfield told SN that Moseley Rezin -- a registered and state-certified dietitian whose specialty is food safety -- is particularly well suited for the work she does at Festival.

"Her background is in quality control, so in addition to being a food-safety expert, she also understands our other needs -- for productivity and efficiency, sometimes in very crowded spaces," he said.

Greenfield added that Moseley Rezin's role as dietitian is a value-added bonus for the retailer, since she can also answer questions from shoppers about ingredients in Festival's hot and cold prepared foods.

The company has developed its prepared foods program gradually over the past three years from basic rotisserie and fried chicken to a pretty extensive menu of comfort food, most of which is prepared from scratch on-site. Each of the company's stores has a self-service, hot food bar.

Moseley Rezin consults with Festival officials in all the company's perishables departments, but deli probably gets the most attention, she said.

"That's the area that presents the most potential for problems because there's food in so many stages of preparation," she said.

When she does an informal walk-through inspection, Moseley Rezin always checks the temperatures in the cold case and on the hot buffet table.

"I'll also look to see if they have towels and are meeting state codes as far as hand-washing goes, and see if they're keeping raw food well separated from cooked food."

Then, on a quarterly basis, she does a random, unannounced inspection at each store and writes up a report that offers her recommendations. Copies go to store managers and department managers as well as to top management.

"And always at the regular managers' meetings, I re-emphasize food safety," she said, adding that she sometimes acts as a liaison with state officials.

For example, for a recent meeting, she arranged for a state official to talk about Wisconsin's recently updated food code.

Moseley Rezin's link-up with Festival is not a big departure for her. She's familiar with Festival's stores because she does her grocery shopping there and basic, good food-handling practices are the same no matter what the setting, she pointed out.

"Chilled foods have to be 40 degrees or below, and hot foods, 140 or above. And correct hand-washing practices are just that, wherever you are. The state regulations reflect that, too. When you get down to temperatures, preventing cross contamination and maintaining good hygiene, it's the same," Moseley Rezin said.

She explained, however, that her duties at Lutheran Gundersen are multi-faceted.

"At the hospital, I wear several hats. I help them prepare for accreditation inspections. Currently, I'm assisting with getting policies and procedures up to par. I also consult with a small community hospital, but dealing with food safety is something I particularly enjoy," she said.

Prior to joining the hospital's full-time staff, Moseley Rezin worked for 10 years as a caterer and the hospital was one of her major accounts. Catering business lunches, doctors' meals, board meeting lunches and special events were part of her regular agenda.

Before that, she worked as a food technologist and relief lab supervisor in the quality assurance department at Kraft Foods' Beaver Dam, Wis., manufacturing facility.