The past year has revealed some very informative research into many aspects of food handling that can help operators improve safe food handling. This article cites a few examples that have come to our attention. Armed with this information operators can adjust practices and provide training that will further reduce the risk of food borne illness.
Preventing food handlers from working while ill.
The Environmental Health Specialists Network in the USA released research pertaining to food handlers propensity to work while ill. Over half of the 491 food handlers interviewed admitted to working while ill. Twenty percent of those had symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea. The research showed that half of those that worked while ill did not tell their manager.
Fear of losing shifts or pay was not the leading factor in the decision to work while ill. Most employees were concerned about leaving the operation understaffed. These are dedicated employees that need to know they are not doing anything wrong by calling in sick. Research suggests that managers will benefit from creating “a climate of collaborative communication with food workers about illness and risks to food safety.”
Educating the Food Service Industry on Proper Raw Chicken Handling
The Environment of Health Specialist Network conducted interviews at 448 restaurants in the USA as part of a study focused on a Food Service Manager’s knowledge of chicken preparation and the overall chicken handling and cooking practices with in the participating restaurants. Of the managers interviewed, 40% indicated that they sometimes, rarely or never used or assigned designated cutting boards or work stations for chicken. Over half of the managers advised that a thermometer was not used verify the final cooking temperature of chicken and only 43% of the managers could recite the correct cooking temperature of chicken.
The outcome of this study identifies that while poultry is the fourth common food related with foodborne illness and the number one food related to deaths from foodborne illness there is a vast amount of opportunity for targeted “training and intervention efforts”. This training would not only impact the way restaurants handle and prepare raw chicken but that overall efforts to train in the areas of cleaning and sanitizing would be a welcome outcome.
Ground Beef Handling Practices in Restaurants
The Environment of Health Specialist Network conducted a study in an effort to understand the prevalence of risky ground beef practices at restaurants. 385 restaurants participated, 67% independently owned and 33% chain restaurants, with the type of service being split at 75% sit down, 19% quick service and 6% cafeteria/buffet. Of these restaurants the study revealed that 49% never used a thermometer to verify that the safe final cooking temperature was achieved and that 81% used one or more subjective measures to determine effective cooking of ground beef.
Fifty Three percent of the participating restaurants had two or more risky handling practices observed during the study period, coupled with the fact that a large amount of the participating restaurants are using subjective versus quantitative measures for ground beef doneness, demonstrates that a there is an immense need for education and training with regards to the handling and cooking of ground beef. The observed practices and risk of cross contamination also sheds light on how restaurant patrons could became ill with E.coli OH157:H7 without actually consuming ground beef during their visit.
Hand Washing before Food Preparation can Reduce Foodborne Illness
The CDC Foodborne Outbreak Online Database states that 13% of foodborne illness outbreaks have occurred from eating foods prepared in the home. This study compared the amount of self-reported hand washing before food preparation against self-reported foodborne illness. The results demonstrated that hand washing prior to food preparation can reduce the amount of foodborne illness.
The caveat to this study is that changing behaviour, as we well know, can be extremely difficult and suggests that targeting youth and young adults on the importance of proper hand washing is key to enabling self-protective measures such as hand washing throughout life.
Impact of Time/Temperature Control of Leafy Greens in Food Service
Controlling time and temperature of leafy greens directly impacts the overall product quality and microbial growth. This is especially important as these products are at high risk for microbial growth and have resulted in over 800 cases of foodborne illness and deaths since 1993. The study found that populations of E.coli 0157:H7 and L.monocytogenes increased by a maximum of 3.1 and 3.0 log CFU/g during retail storage.
Most temperature abuse occurred during retail storage. This was the environment that went through the most dramatic temperature changes due to the units being shut down for cleaning or re stocking. While the study did observe changes during transportation and display, the bagged lettuce spent less time in these two area of the flow of food. Minimizing the amount of time bagged leafy greens are in retail storage would improve lessen the amount of microbial growth and would improve product quality.