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Studies on Restaurant Food Safety Produce Some Unsettling Data

In a recent study of restaurant safety practices, 62 percent of restaurant workers handling raw ground beef with their bare hands did not wash up before handling other ready-to-eat foods or cooked ground beef.

That was just one of numerous statistics brought to light by a series of studies on restaurant food safety practices published in the December edition of Journal of Food Protection and organized by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net) within the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to CDC, EHS-Net was created to research the risk of foodborne illness associated with restaurants in an effort to better prevent outbreaks. Between the four studies, researchers examined food safety practices at hundreds of restaurants around the country.

Food Safety News will highlight the studies’ findings over this week. Below are some of the findings from two of the studies:

Ground Beef Handling and Cooking Practices in Eight States (article link)

EHS-Net researchers studied 385 restaurants in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Tennessee to determine common handling practices for ground beef, a potential vector of E. coli and Salmonella.

  • 71 percent of managers said workers were required to tell a manager when they were experiencing gastrointestinal illness symptoms such as diarrhea or stomach cramps. 28 said workers were not required to mention being ill.
  • 20 percent of managers said their restaurants had posted a consumer advisory regarding the risk of eating undercooked hamburger or ground beef. 77 percent did not. (62 percent of restaurants with advisories were in the three states in the study that required them by law: New York, Georgia and Connecticut.)
  • 77 percent of managers said their restaurants rarely or never measured the temperature of cooked burgers with a thermometer.
  • 40 percent of the hamburgers requested as medium rare by customers were undercooked, while 8 percent of the hamburgers requested as well-done were undercooked.
  • In 62 percent of restaurants, workers handling raw ground beef did not wash their hands before handling other ready-to-eat foods or cooked ground beef.
  • In 42 percent of restaurants, utensils were not washed between touching raw ground beef and other ready-to-eat foods or cooked ground beef.
  • Workers were observed wiping their hands on cloths or aprons after handling raw ground beef – but not washing their hands – in 40 percent of restaurants.
  • 29 percent of the managers had not heard of irradiated ground beef, while only 1 percent said their restaurant used irradiated ground beef. (Irradiation is a process of pasteurizing food by exposing it to ionizing radiation).

Handling Practices of Fresh Leafy Greens in Restaurants: Receiving and Training (article link)

There were 127 outbreaks linked to leafy greens between 2004 and 2008, with more than half of those coming from restaurants. Researchers surveyed 439 restaurant kitchen managers about their leafy green handling practices.

  • 65 percent (266 of 411) of kitchen managers said that their restaurants had rejected a shipment of leafy greens for a number of reasons: appearance (browning, wilting, tears, rot, mold, and/or dirt: 96.6 percent, 257 of 266); product moisture (soggy or dripping: 26.3 percent, 70); bad aroma or taste: 10.9 percent, 29; required label missing: 8.3 percent, 22; product out of temperature range: 7.5 percent, 20, and other conditions such as insects, unapproved supplier, and damaged packaging: 8.6 percent, 23.
  • Almost 50 percent of the leafy greens arrived at the restaurant at temperatures above 41 degrees F (5 degrees C) and almost 30 percent arrived above 45 degrees F (7.2 degrees C). Temperatures above 45 degrees F may allow for easy growth of bacterial pathogens on the greens.
  • 423 kitchen managers responded when asked how many kitchen managers in their restaurant were food safety certified; 31 perecent (132) had no kitchen managers who were certified in food safety, 33 percent (141) had one kitchen manager certified, 21.7 percent (92) had two kitchen managers certified, 7.6 percent (32) had three kitchen managers certified, 5 percent (21) had four kitchen managers certified, and 3.1 percent (13) had five or more kitchen managers certified. “A certified kitchen manager can provide oversight and knowledge that can reduce the risk of contamination and proliferation of pathogens during receiving, storing, and handling of leafy greens,” the authors wrote.
  • In 2010, California legislators implemented a mandate that nearly all of the state’s food handlers needed food safety certification. The city of San Diego adopted the practices earlier on, and found that, after five years, there had been a 60-percent decrease in food safety violations at restaurants and a 50-percent increase in food handler knowledge.
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