A series of studies released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its partners highlight widespread shortcomings in restaurant food safety systems, such as the risky handling of ground beef and chicken and cold temperatures. too hot shipping for leafy greens.
At the same time, the CDC announced plans for a new surveillance system designed to help state and local health departments identify the underlying factors that contribute to outbreaks of foodborne illness in restaurants and beyond. places to eat.
The research results, published this week in the Food Protection Journal, deal with the handling of ground beef, chicken and leafy greens, and sick food workers.
The studies were conducted by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net), which includes experts from the CDC, state and local agencies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the US Department of Agriculture.
In a press release on the studies, the CDC noted that more than half of all foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States are associated with restaurants, delis, banquet halls, schools and other institutions.
The ground beef study involved interviews with managers and observations of ground beef preparation at 385 restaurants in eight states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Tennessee. Two-thirds of the restaurants were owned by chains and one-third were independent.
Among the main findings, according to the study and a summary from the CDC:
- Eighty-one percent of restaurants used subjective measurements of burger doneness, and 49% said they never checked the final cooking temperature.
- At least two unsafe handling practices were observed in 53% of restaurants
- In 62% of the restaurants in which workers handled raw ground beef with their bare hands, they did not wash their hands after handling it.
- Only 1% of restaurants said they purchased irradiated ground beef and 29% were unfamiliar with the product
- Restaurant chains and those with certified food safety managers had safer practices than others.
For the chicken study, EHS-Net researchers interviewed 448 restaurant managers. They found that many were not following FDA guidelines for preventing cross-contamination and cooking chicken properly, and that managers “lacked basic chicken food safety knowledge.”
For example, 40% of managers said they never, rarely, or only occasionally designated certain cutting boards exclusively for raw meat, and over 50% said thermometers were not used to determine the temperature. final cooking temperature of the chicken. In addition, only 43% of managers knew the recommended final cooking temperature.
Mixed results on leafy greens
To examine handling of the leafy greens, the researchers interviewed 349 restaurant managers and checked the temperatures of 37 shipments of leafy greens.
Almost two-thirds (65%) of managers said they rejected a shipment of leafy greens at some point because the greens looked or smelled bad, weren’t in the correct temperature range, or didn’t. did not have the required label.
Almost all of the managers said they keep purchasing records for their leafy greens. The authors concluded that most restaurants were following FDA guidelines for rejecting shipments and keeping records, which could be used to trace products in the event of contamination, the CDC said.
However, more than half of the shipments tested were above the FDA recommended temperature of 41 ° F, creating potential for pathogen growth, the CDC said.
A fourth study, covered in a CIDRAP News article yesterday, was a survey of restaurant workers, which found that 20% of them reported working while ill with gastrointestinal illness. during the previous year.
In an accompanying commentary, Craig W. Hedberg, PhD, wrote that sick food workers may be the biggest risk factor for restaurant-related foodborne illness outbreaks. He is a professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis.
“Because infected food workers were identified as the source of half of the outbreaks of foodborne norovirus infection in the United States from 2001 to 2008 and may have contributed to transmission in over 80% of these epidemics, eliminating the motivations of workers to work while they are sick should be a clear priority, “he wrote.
New monitoring system
As part of the studies, the CDC announced plans to launch a surveillance system that state and local agencies can use to investigate environmental factors in foodborne illness outbreaks. The system is called the National Voluntary Environmental Assessment Information System (NVEAIS).
“The system provides a means to capture the underlying EA data that describes what happened and how the events most likely lead to a foodborne outbreak,” the CDC said.
The agency is also committed to providing a free interactive e-course “to help state and local health departments investigate outbreaks of foodborne illness in restaurants and other dining venues as a member of the ‘a larger outbreak response team, to identify the environmental causes of an outbreak and to recommend control measures. ”The course will also be available to the food industry, academia and the public.
The surveillance system and the route should start in early 2014.
December 2 CDC press release
CDC summaries of new studies, with additional links
Dec 2 CIDRAP News Scan on the study of sick workers
Hedberg comment in J Food Prot