U.S – A recent study led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shed light on the factors contributing to food cross-contamination in restaurants, uncovering critical insights that could enhance food safety practices in the industry.

The study, conducted by CDC’s Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net), identified specific restaurant characteristics and policies linked to contamination, emphasizing the significance of food safety certification, training, and handwashing policies.

It encompassed 312 establishments across six EHS-Net sites in five states and aimed to pinpoint restaurant features, policies, and practices associated with cross-contamination.

Restaurants, defined as establishments serving food or beverages to customers, were thoroughly evaluated, excluding institutions, food carts, mobile units, temporary stands, supermarkets, and caterers.

Key findings

The study’s key findings emphasize the critical role of manager certification, training, and clear policies in ensuring food safety in restaurants.

Restaurants without proper food safety certification and handwashing policies experienced more frequent contamination incidents.

Remarkably, over 85% of restaurants had policies in place to minimize cross-contamination, including handwashing guidelines and rules to reduce bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat (RTE) foods.

The research underlined the significance of well-trained staff, as managers’ certification and training correlated with improved food safety outcomes.

Ownership type played a role, with independent restaurant ownership associated with higher cross-contamination incidents, suggesting that chain restaurants might benefit from better resources and standardized training.

Interestingly, the study revealed that experienced managers were linked to more cross-contamination incidents, indicating a potential connection between manager experience and complacency.

The observed cross-contamination actions included bare hands or dirty gloves contacting RTE foods, dirty hands contaminating clean equipment, and improper storage of wiping cloths.

Restaurants lacking clear handwashing and bare-hand contact policies exhibited higher rates of contamination incidents, highlighting the importance of stringent guidelines in preventing cross-contamination.

The study underscores the critical role of food safety certification, training, and well-defined policies in mitigating cross-contamination risks in restaurants.

Restaurants are urged to prioritize staff certification, reinforce training programs, and establish comprehensive handwashing guidelines to minimize contamination events.

FDA study

In June 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report detailing the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors in fast food and full-service restaurants.

The report is part of an ongoing 10-year study aimed at identifying trends in foodborne illness risk factors and food safety practices in foodservice facilities.

The goal was to identify both the least and most frequently occurring foodborne illness risk factors and food safety behaviors. The presence of a food safety management system (FSMS) and a certified food protection manager (CFPM) were also examined for their impact on risk factor occurrence.

The study included 421 fast food restaurants and 430 full-service restaurants. Approximately 70 percent of the establishments operated in jurisdictions requiring a CFPM, and most restaurants had a CFPM present during data collection.

Restaurants demonstrated better control over inadequate cooking, while improvements were needed in areas such as improper holding/time and temperature, personal hygiene, employee handwashing, cold-holding refrigerated foods, and proper food cooling.

The study identified FSMS as the strongest predictor of compliance, with well-developed systems associated with fewer out-of-compliance food safety behaviors/practices.

Restaurants with a CFPM present and in charge during data collection also showed better compliance.

However, multivariate analysis indicated that the presence of a CFPM alone did not significantly predict compliance, suggesting that both FSMS and the presence of a CFPM play crucial roles.

Restaurants with a CFPM in charge throughout operation hours exhibited higher average FSMS scores, indicating that continuous CFPM presence could enhance FSMS and reduce out-of-compliance practices.

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