Findings from the 84-page initial phase of a 10-year study evaluating trends in food preparation practices and employee behaviors that contribute to foodborne illness outbreaks in fast-food and full-service restaurants were released Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FDA’s National Retail Food Team is working on the study with help from stakeholders including the National Restaurant Association, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, national restaurant chains and state restaurant associations. Purpose of the study is to provide restaurant management with useful insights to address and reduce common unsafe behaviors and practices.

FDA says the report includes background, design, and results of data collection on the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors in the United States in restaurant settings during 2013 -2014.

“It is a stand-alone report representing the first data collection period of the FDA’s current 10-year study on trends in the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors, food safety behaviors/practices, and interventions in food services facilities,” the report attract says. “Data from the 2013-2014 collection will be used as a baseline to assess trends in the occurrence of risk factors during data collections, in 2017 and 2021. Additional data collections in 2015, 2019, and 2023 investigate similar retail food safety research questions in institutional food service settings and retail food stores.”

More than 1 million restaurants in the U.S. employ more than 14 million people. “Along with this high demand comes the need for careful attention to food safety practices and behaviors that minimize the incidence of foodborne illness in these locations,” the report says.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than half of foodborne illness outbreaks that occur each year are associated with food from restaurants.

“When considering incidents in 2014 involving a single location of food preparation, for example, restaurants accounted for 485 outbreaks (65 percent) and 4,780 illnesses (44 percent) (CDC, 2014).”

The report says the annual economic burden from health losses due to foodborne illnesses is estimated to total $77,7 billion.

The national observational study is investigating the relationship between food safety management systems, certified food protection managers, and the occurrence of risk factors and food safety behaviors and practices that are commonly associated with foodborne illnesses in restaurants.

The study objectives for 2014-2014 data collection period were to:

  • Identify the least and most often occurring foodborne illness risk factors and food safety behaviors and practices in restaurants in the United States;
  • Determine the extent to which food safety management systems and the presence of a certified food protection manager impact the occurrence of food safety behaviors and practices, and;
  • Determine whether the occurrence of food safety behaviors and practices in restaurants differ based on the establishment’s risk categorization (the number of times the establishment has been inspected based on the risk associated with the complexity of food preparation in the food establishment) and status as a single-unit or multiple-unit operation (whether the establishment is part of a chain or not).

“Of the food safety behaviors and practices investigated in this study, restaurants had the best control over ensuring no bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods and cooking raw animal foods to their required temperatures, FDA’s statement said. “The study showed there remains a need to gain better control over employee handwashing and proper temperature control of foods that require refrigeration (cold holding of foods).”

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)