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School Lunch comes up short after new certification requirement

Fire Chief O'Brien and his crew, along with officials from the School Lunch Program, following a presentation by the Fire Dept. last Thursday during the week-long food safety training workshop for all SLP cooks and food handlers. See story for full details.   [Courtesy photo]
You must be HACCP certified, no exceptions

Only 157 of the 174 cooks and food handlers of the School Lunch Program (SLP) were HACCP certified last week, following a week long training that was held at the Samoana High School cafeteria.

While having a valid health card used to be the critical component in securing a job in the school cafeterias, HACCP certification is now equally as important.

"It is mandatory. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it," said SLP's HACCP-certified Division Head, Nelta Ala, yesterday in response to Samoa News inquiries.

HACCP, or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, is an internationally recognized system for reducing the risk of safety hazards in food. “It deals with safety, in every step," said Ala. "From the moment the food is delivered, to storage, thawing, prepping, cooking, and serving it to the children — everything is covered.”

According to Ala, last week's HACCP certification training was the first of its kind for the territory, one of the first of many programs in the pipeline as SLP heads towards making food safety a priority for all involved.

She explained that the certification process involves a quiz, administered by her, and requires attendees to be present at least 4 out of the 5 days for the program.

Basically, those who didn't achieve certification last week either didn't pass the quiz, or they were absent for too many days.

But there is hope for them, Ala said. They, along with cooks and food handlers who were off island and unable to attend the training will be required to attend another training, conducted by Ala, in an effort to help them get HACCP certified.

Otherwise, they will be out of a job.

The HACCP prioritizes and controls potential hazards in food production in all areas including microbiological, chemical, and physical, which can cause the finished product to be unsafe, and it designs measurements to reduce these risks to a safe level.

In addition to presentations and lectures, training participants also had the chance to see demonstrations by the local Fire Department, on how to use a fire extinguisher, and how to properly extinguish a kitchen fire.

For many years, cooks have seen fire extinguishers in the kitchen but never knew how to use them. "This is the first time for them and it's a really good thing," Ala said.

In addition, Department of Health representative Leota Makeati and DOH compliance officer Onosa'i Aulava made presentations. The cooks were informed on what is expected during the DOH inspection process, problems with pest control, fumigation, grease traps, etc.

(Samoa News should point out that one of the main reasons behind Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s Adopt-a-School initiative was the unsanitary and poor condition of school campuses, particularly the cafeterias and classroom facilities — from dirt, dust, and grime, to mold and mildew. That was why the start of the school year was delayed for several weeks during Lolo's first term in office; hence, the birth of the Adopt-a-School program.)

SLP Assistant Director, Christina Fuala'au is grateful to the Fire Department and DOH "for taking the time to assist School Lunch employees with much needed training."

Ala echoed the same sentiment and thanked everyone who came out, "whether you were certified or not, we can help you get the certification later." Ala said the hope is to get all the cooks and food handlers certified before public schools kick off the new school year on Tuesday, Sept. 5th

Today, certification begins for cooks and food handlers working in the Manu'a Island group. They too, are required to be HACCP certified.

Ala concluded by saying that the HACCP certification training will be an annual event for the School Lunch Program, set to be held before the start of each new school year. In addition, other training sessions are being planned, to include nutrition and discussions about menu items.