Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Restaurants and Fast Food Establishments

With half of foodborne illness outbreaks associated with restaurant food, improvement of food safety practices and behaviors are critical to reduce risk for customers.
Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Restaurants and Fast Food Establishments - News


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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released the first results of an ongoing 10-year study evaluating food safety practices in both full service and fast food restaurants that may contribute to foodborne illness. With over half of foodborne illness outbreaks from a single location attributed to restaurants, understanding food safety practices in these operations and helping owners/operators implement change is critical to prevention.

In a recent blog post, Martin Bucknavage, Senior Food Safety Extension Associate, summarized some of the key findings of the FDA Report on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Fast Food and Full-Service Restaurants, 2013-2014.

Study Purpose

Investigate the relationship between Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS – procedures, training and monitoring in place around safe food handling), a Certified Food Protection Mangers (CFPM) and the occurrence of risk factors and food safety practices commonly associated with foodborne illness in restaurants. These five major risk factors include poor personal hygiene, improper food holding/time and temperature, contaminated equipment, inadequate cooking and food obtained from unsafe sources

Study Objectives

  • Identification of the least and most commonly occurring risk factors and food safety behaviors/practices in restaurants.
  • Determine the extent to which FSMS and the presence of a CFMP impact food safety behaviors/practices.
  • Determine if the occurrence of food safety behaviors/practices differs based on the establishments risk categorization and status as a single location or multiple location operation.

Study Findings

While the report provides detailed information about the study important findings as summarized by Bucknavage include the following:

  • The most common out of compliance risk factors were improper holding time and temperature and poor personal hygiene in both types of restaurants, highlighting a need for continued education and better controls in the facility.
  • Having a CFMP present, in charge and on site, resulted in less non-compliant issues than just having a CFMP. Currently, in Pennsylvania an establishment is required to have one CFMP per establishment and they do not have to be onsite at all times, but must be available. In 2020, that requirement will change as the 2017 Food Code updates are implemented with the requirement that the person in charge must be a CFMP.
  • Having a strong FSMS in place was even more important in having fewer food safety behaviors/practices out of compliance. At a minimum, a FSMS includes clearly identified procedures for accomplishing tasks that minimizes food safety risk, training of staff about these procedures and how to carry them out and monitoring by the CFMP through observation and record keeping being sure procedures are being followed. This is referred to as active managerial control.

For information on food safety in retail operations be sure to visit the Penn State Food Safety website. Additionally, the Penn State Extension Food Safety and Quality Team offers both classroom and online training for individuals interested in obtaining their Certified Food Protection Manager certificate.