FDA releases first results in 10-year study on food safety in restaurants

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the middle of a 10-year-long study on food safety practices in the nation’s restaurants, including food preparation techniques and employee behaviors. Recently, the administration published results from its first year of data collection.

The study, which encompasses both fast food and sit-down restaurants, looks at how certain restaurant practices might contribute to foodborne illness outbreaks. Most importantly, the FDA hopes to use the data it collects to identify areas where restaurants can improve on avoiding common health hazards.

Began in 2013, the study will wrap up in 2023. Data collection is taking place in stages, with collection periods for fast food and full-service restaurants in 2013, 2017 and 2021 and for institutional food services (cafeterias in schools, prisons, etc.) in 2015, 2019 and 2023.

Involved in the study are the National Restaurant Association and the National Council of Chain Restaurants, in addition to large chains and some state-wide associations.

The good and the bad

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50% of foodborne illness outbreaks come from restaurant food. To that end, the FDA’s initial publication regarding its ongoing study highlights the importance of food safety management systems, including certified food protection managers.

Where were restaurants encouraged to improve? Handwashing — an area the U.S. Food Safety Inspection Service has already said is done improperly 97% of the time. The FDA also says that restaurants need to better maintain proper temperature control in cold holding of food.

Where did restaurants score well? Preventing direct hand contact with ready-to-eat food — employees generally seem to do well with wearing gloves when needed. Cooks also seemed to be doing a good job of cooking meat to safe internal temperatures.

The report states that the yearly cost of foodborne illness is $77.7 billion, thanks to the losses generated when people get sick, and so far, the behaviors determined to be the biggest health hazards are things that can be easily improved, like handwashing and temperature control.

For more on food safety in restaurants, check out our post on the five most common ways food is contaminated in a restaurant.

 

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