ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Food safety is no illusion at Walt Disney World Co., which has developed an extensive, technology-driven program of best practices covering more than 500 food-service locations, from pushcarts to convention-center kitchens, according to the entertainment provider's manager of environmental health.
"Food safety is magical, but it doesn't happen magically," said Frank Yiannas, during the annual convention here last week of the International Deli-Dairy-Bakery Association.
Disney's food-safety program, initiated in 1997, takes a farm-to-fork approach and is based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point principles. It monitors every link in the distribution chain, and is supported with unannounced inspections of on-site facilities, an emphasis on repeated training and regular tests of food products in Disney's own microbiological laboratories.
"Somewhere on our properties, an HACCP temperature is taken the equivalent of every 10 seconds. In the time it takes us to measure all of these temperatures in one day, you could ride Space Mountain 458 times," he said, referring to the park's futuristic roller-coaster ride.
Single-service gloves are in mandatory use among the company's 14,000 "cast members" employed as direct-contact food handlers; similarly, all work surfaces are cleaned with ammonia-based Ster Bac Blu. The potent sanitizer is premixed in tower dispensers at each food-service facility.
In regard to produce, all imported items arrive with country-of-origin labels. Yiannas noted that in Florida -- where Disney World is located, and he is based, in Lake Buena Vista -- the state Department of Agriculture requires such labeling.
Turkey legs are a popular item sold from pushcarts in the Disney parks. Yiannas said that he's often asked why the company is willing to take such a risk in offering customers a temperature-sensitive product in a difficult-to-control environment -- a mobile merchandiser.
"A properly smoked turkey leg has a very low moisture content," he said, noting the method by which it is sold. "Actually, not very many harmful bacteria can multiply in them. And, they're sold from carts utilizing what we call 'food-cart HACCP."'
This plan is executed within the company's overall HACCP blueprint, and has been adapted to other venues as well, such as pastries and temporary events. In each case, best practices are adapted to fit the particular situation and environment in which the food is being served.
"The cart [operators] are required to check temperatures throughout the day and record them," he said.
Yet, given the variety of food-service outlets, as well as the huge number of employees, Disney's food-safety program strives for simplicity.
"Food-service HACCP is very different from food-processing HACCP," Yiannas said. "In order for it to be effective, it has to be very user friendly."
Repetitive monitoring at regular periods helps to create critical time/temperature logs, he added. At Disney, checklists are also made for HACCP-like areas of concern, such as cleanliness of floors, ceilings and dumpsters. While not technically required under HACCP, their condition can ultimately have a direct effect on food safety.
The key to simplifying these myriad tasks lies in hand-held computer technology, called CAFE -- Creatively Analyzing Foods and Environments, developed in-house a year ago by Disney's team of Imagineers.
The paperless system downloads inspection templates for individual facilities from the system administration program. The inspector can enter scores based on Disney's own rating scale by touchscreen, and even use an attached thermometer to measure temperatures. All the data is processed for a final score, and sent back for documentation to the central server in the form of a summary report. It is automatically e-mailed to a list of senior management for review and action, if necessary.
But technology aside, Yiannas acknowledged there remain plenty of human concerns that govern the success of a food-safety program. For example, any legitimate food-safety program must begin with suppliers. New vendors qualify only if they have an HACCP plan, recall procedure, standard sanitary operating procedure, undergo a food-safety audit and provide microbiological samples for testing in Disney labs.
Established vendors also face scrutiny in the form of annual audits to ensure that safety protocols remain in effect; and there's regular, systematic microbiological sampling of product shipped to the company's theme parks.
At company level, the first line of defense is proper receiving. Here, the emphasis is placed not only on strong procedures, but people. Training focuses on affecting behavior, not just on imparting knowledge, said Yiannas.
Disney has developed a training program for all levels of employees that incorporates company goals and fosters company culture. Classes are held in the theme parks for state management certification, required by law. Trainees are not limited to management level, however. Yiannas said the class is open to any food handler interested in advancing knowledge of the topic, and food handlers are invited to participate in the program. Line workers take a basic food-safety class. And, because the company employs so many food-service workers, "Train-the-Trainer" classes are held to facilitate this labor-intensive process.
"We train select people to do this. They have a strong food-and-beverage background; they are required to become state-certified; and they're required to take some additional training courses, like effective presentation skills," he said. He added that the most recent addition to the curriculum targets food receivers.
After-training support is conducted via Disney's Intranet, on a site called "Foodtools," which is a library of information on everything taught in the food-safety classes. Since each DIsney kitchen and food-service area has a computer, managers can download the data for employees any time, as needed, Yiannas said.
The Intranet also offers the "Electronic Food Safety Partner Report," a monthly publication carrying relevant news articles and updates about company policy as it relates to food and beverage operations. Another timely feature acts just like television's emergency broadcast system. Here, instant warnings are generated concerning any recalls affecting food products served at Disney facilities.
Printed literature is also available: a pamphlet full of basic information; HACCP cards, or "cheat sheets," which can be carried by food handlers and referred to at any time (such as in surprise spot quizzes administered by managers); and Disney's own HACCP manual, containing rules that are more stringent than any state requirements, he said.
Another teaching method currently under development acknowledges the international nature of Disney's business, as well as the universal need to promote food safety. This program uses symbols as they relate to proper hygiene, and food preparation and maintenance. This can be especially helpful in the case of foreign-speaking employees, Yiannas noted.
"We've done a real good job with this on the guest end," he said. "You go into our park, and you'll see all types of icons and symbols. So this is really an extension to try and take this into the back of the house."