Poor personal hygiene, cross contamination among foodborne illness risk factors in fast food restaurants, FDA report

USA – The Food and Drug Administration has released findings from the first phase of a 10-year study indicating that among the foodborne illness risk factors that needed improvement were poor personal hygiene, improper food holding/time and temperature and cross-contamination with the equipment.

According to FDA, more than half of all food poisoning outbreaks in the U.S. every year are associated with restaurant food.

A 2014 study carried out on a single location found out that restaurants accounted for 485 outbreaks, or 65% of the total, and 4780 illnesses, or 44%, many of them leading to lawsuits.

The restaurant foodborne illness risk factors that were listed for this study include employee handwashing, proper temperature control of perishable foods, improper food holding time, hand-to-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods, cooking raw animal foods to safe final and required internal temperatures, contaminated equipment, and food obtained from unsafe sources.

Among the causes identified for the outbreaks include poor retail food safety practices in both the retail and fast food stores.

The study

Restaurants were randomly selected for the study and twenty-two specialists who conducted the data collection at 384 data collection points.

During the study, the 2013 FDA Food Code was used as the standard of measurement with restaurants marked as being in compliance, out of compliance, or not applicable.

Then, for each of the key elements, the person in charge was interviewed to see if criteria for risk factors were addressed in a food safety management system (FSMS). The answers were rated 1 through 4.

One was defined as no system in place, 2 as underdeveloped, 3 as well-developed, and 4 as well-developed and documented.

Role of a food safety management system

Result of the study is what calls for attention to food safety when it comes to food handling and preparation in fast food restaurants as well as food service sector.

The report found out that in fast food restaurants, 68% were out of compliance for holding refrigerated foods at the proper temperature, 66% were out of compliance for personal hygiene, 49% for cooling foods properly, 41% for sanitizing food contact surfaces, and 37% for foods protected from cross-contamination.

For full service restaurants, 86% were out of compliance for keeping perishable foods refrigerated, 82% for employee handwashing, 72% for cooling foods properly, 71% for ready-to-eat foods marked with the date and discarded within a week, and 66% for protecting food from cross-contamination.

All these are factors attributed to outbreak of foodborne illnesses in fast food restaurants.

The ability of a restaurant to comply to food safety and hygiene requirements was further determined by whether a food safety management system (FSMS) was put in place or not.

In fast food restaurants, if there was no FSMS, an average of 4.5 items were out of compliance while with a well-developed FSMS, only 1.7 items were out of compliance.

The report showed that restaurants with a Certified Food Protection Manager (CFPM) had fewer primary data items out of compliance.

According to FDA, cold holding of foods requiring refrigeration was one of the risk factors that needed improvement as bacteria will grow in foods out of refrigeration after two hours

Additionally, there is great need to promote employee handwashing given that ill persons can transfer bacteria to foods through the fecal-to-oral route.

FDA concluded that the best control in fast food and full service restaurants was in ensuring no bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods, and cooking raw animal foods, such as meat, poultry, and eggs, to the required safe final internal temperature.

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