From the buffet salad bar greens to the ice clinking in drinks served poolside, hotel administrators are finding that protecting guests from food and water illness outbreaks is a continuous challenge.
It’s also a necessary undertaking to demonstrate the hotel’s commitment to its patrons’ well being. Travelers won’t soon forget the awful stomach cramps if they experience a sickness during their stay, and such episodes can cause nearly irreversible damages to a hotel’s reputation.
The global public health and safety organization NSF International launched a new certification program this year to assist hotels and resorts in preventing contamination at its source. It combines inspection and testing of hotels’ water systems and food service operations.
“By adhering to the requirements of the program, a hotel with NSF StaySafer certification will protect both its guests and its brand,” said Sonia Acuña-Rubio, managing director of NSF International’s food division in Latin America who oversees the NSF StaySafer program. “We hope this added assurance will assist hotels in their customer satisfaction efforts and ultimately increase the rate of returning guests while also providing a helpful guide for consumers, tour operators, agencies, and travel sites.”
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 10 million international travelers annually acquire illness from contaminated food and drinking water, such as Escherichia coli infections. Other diseases associated with contaminated food and drinking water include shigellosis or bacillary dysentery, giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, norovirus infection, hepatitis A, and salmonelloses, including typhoid fever. Unsafe food and water also can pose a risk of cholera and a variety of conditions caused by protozoan and helminthic parasites.
While a wide variation of food and water quality practices exists from country to country, it’s a misconception that safety concerns are limited to poor areas in developing regions. Many germs have no boundaries, so the NSF StaySafer program will play an important role in establishing a universal set of standards that can be used as a benchmark and complement local requirements.
“Travelers should expect the same level of food and water safety at any NSF StaySafer certified hotel in any country of the world,” Acuña-Rubio said.
A starting point for hotel administrators who want to improve their quality efforts is to review their written policies and procedures for their food service operations and water systems. Focusing on programs, training, and interventions that target these areas will increase hotel employees’ health consciousness.
Once these processes are in place, the next step is to ensure that they are put into practice consistently through onsite facility inspections. The NSF implements two approaches—the NSF DineSafer program and the NSF DrinkSafer protocol—to accomplish this.
NSF evaluates foodservice operations against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s model food code to verify that proper food safety systems and personnel training are in use. According to the food code, epidemiological outbreak data repeatedly identify five major risk factors related to employee behaviors and preparation practices in retail and food service establishments as contributing to foodborne illness: improper holding temperatures; inadequate cooking, such as undercooking raw shell eggs; contaminated equipment; food from unsafe sources; and poor personal hygiene.
When evaluating water distribution and treatment systems, the NSF uses its Water Safety Standard for the Global Hotel Industry. This inspection includes the safety design and maintenance of the hotel or resort’s water and ice systems, and water and ice samples are tested for chemical and microbial contaminants. Annual facility audits and testing ensure ongoing compliance.
Once a facility meets these standards, it receives NSF StaySafer certification. Certified hotels will be listed in the NSF’s online listings database and earn use of the NSF StaySafer mark on marketing materials. This can generate new opportunities for hotels to create a strategic difference and a competitive advantage that is of value to consumers.
The response from the hotel industry to the program has been positive, especially in countries overseas, according to Acuña-Rubio. “There is a growing interest from hotels to improve and verify their quality efforts, but also to let their customers know that they are investing in protecting their health,” she said.
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