Friday, 21 November 2014

Hotels Help Guests Stay Safer

New program strengthens hotel water systems and food service operations to help prevent food and waterborne contamination

New program strengthens hotel water systems and food service operations to help prevent food and waterborne contamination

By Jonathan Springston, AAHOA Lodging Business

Global public health organization NSF International in February launched a new program that helps hotels, resorts and other hospitality settings prevent food and water contamination. The NSF International StaySafer program provides the hospitality industry with a credible means to demonstrate the safety of its food and water to travelers, agencies and hotel rating websites.

“Many regions of the world, especially those located in developing countries, do not have access to potable drinking water, or the quality of the municipal drinking water may not be properly regulated or reinforced by the local municipalities or legislation. Additionally, food safety standards may differ greatly from country to country,” Sonia Acuña-Rubio, NSF International Latin America managing director, said. “Therefore, in most cases, the responsibility for food and drinking water safety will fall under the hotel management, who are in charge of implementing and monitoring their own water treatment plan and food handling practices to ensure the safety of their guests. Even then, the lack of a consistent drinking water standard and food safety requirements around the world raises many questions from travelers who are unsure of the reliability of the measures that may or may not be in place by the hotels.”

The NSF StaySafer program combines inspection and testing for both a hotel or resort’s water systems and food service operations, which is essential as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than 10 million overseas travelers contract illness from food and drinking water. The program includes:

  • A review of the establishment’s written policies and procedures for both their food service operations and water systems, including food safety practices and training policies, water source and treatment systems, hotel schematics, and plumbing blueprints.

  • An on-site facility inspection, which includes:

    • An evaluation of the water distribution and treatment systems against NSF draft standard 432: Water Safety Standard for the Global Hotel Industry is conducted. This inspection verifies the safety of the design and maintenance of the hotel or resort’s water and ice systems. Water and ice samples are collected from various locations within the hospitality establishment and tested for chemical and microbial contaminants.

    • An evaluation of food service operations against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code is conducted to verify that proper food safety systems and personnel training are in place to reduce the risk of food-borne contaminants.

  • Annual facility audits and testing to ensure ongoing compliance to the program. This includes regularly scheduled testing and evaluation for microbiological and chemical contamination of drinking water and ice.

“Depending on the country, some local regulations are not as stringent as needed to ensure that the drinking water is safe. Sometimes, the source of the drinking water is a private well or the water is brought to a hotel via an outside source, and is thus subject to less regulation. At times, even if the water is suitably treated in a municipal water treatment plant, there may be contamination in the water distribution system. The hotel must have systems in place to ensure that the water is safe for drinking. Preventing water contamination within the hotel building itself is very important,” Carolyn Gillilland, NSF International water systems senior project manager, said.

Gillilland listed a number of ways water in a hotel can become contaminated, including:

  • Microorganisms through the building's plumbing systems from the source water or from contamination within the building.

  • Products used in the water distribution, water treatment and building plumbing can leach chemicals.

  • Water can be contaminated with chemicals at the source with water treatment chemicals used as disinfection byproducts.

  • Microbial contamination of ice in ice machines.

“The water treatment systems that are installed to treat the hotel drinking water must be the correct system for the water parameters and must be adequately maintained so as to not contribute to microbial water contamination. Additionally, the plumbing systems and products must be designed, installed and maintained properly to minimize the possibility of microbial contamination,” Gillilland said. “Ice machines should be regularly maintained, and ice handling practices should be reviewed to prevent microbial contamination of the ice.”

Once the hospitality establishment has demonstrated its compliance with the auditing and testing requirements of the program, NSF StaySafer certification is granted.

“Confidence in local water and food supplies is a major factor for many tourists when selecting a hospitality establishment for their vacation or a business trip. NSF International saw an increasing interest from hotels in developing nations for ways to improve their level of safety and maintain a healthy tourism industry,” Acuña-Rubio said. “We saw an opportunity to extend our food safety and water quality testing, auditing and training expertise to help support this initiative and help the hospitality industry demonstrate its commitment to food and water safety to its guests.”

In addition to food and water safety, NSF helps hoteliers meet sustainability standards on furniture, textiles and building materials, which can help the hotel meet their LEED certification goal. The NSF Sustainability Assessment Standards cover essential building materials like carpet, resilient flooring, wall coverings, commercial furnishings fabric, and single-ply roofing membranes.

The group works with trade associations like BIFMA (Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association) and the Natural Stone Council to develop specific standards.

“These standards provide architects, designers and specifiers a shorthand method for identifying more sustainable products,” Diane Haworth, marketing manager, NSF International’s sustainability division, said. “The sustainability assessment standards are often tiered (conformant, silver, gold, platinum are common) so specifiers can choose the level of sustainability they want as their starting point.”

She noted that the BIFMA level certification is now cited in a LEED pilot credit and that the new LEED v4 credit language “has indicated that more sustainability assessment standards could be accepted in the future.”

“The U.S. government has already made NSF 140 certification a requirement at the gold level for all U.S. Government Services Administration (GSA) carpet purchases. More standards are expected to be adopted as requirements in the future,” Haworth said. “These sustainability assessment standards are transforming the industries that they cover by helping make the products and the organizations more sustainable.”