Results of a cross-sectional study suggest that the presence of a certified food safety kitchen manager (CKM) significantly reduces the risks for outbreak of foodborne illness in restaurants and that the manager’s presence was the major distinguishing factor between restaurants where outbreaks occurred and restaurants where outbreaks did not occur. The study was performed by researchers from the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net), a collaborative group of government food safety experts.
The purpose of the study was to compare food handling practices and characteristics of restaurants, in which outbreaks of foodborne illness did and did not occur, to try and identify underlying factors contributing to the outbreaks. EHS-Net researchers conducted detailed, systematic environmental evaluations in 22 restaurants where outbreaks had occurred and 347 restaurants in which no outbreaks occurred. The sites were identified from data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Electronic Foodborne Outbreak Reporting System (EFORS) between June 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003.
The restaurants were similar in many respects. A key difference identified was that 71 percent of the restaurants where no outbreak occurred were overseen by managers who had received a certificate upon completion of a food safety training course, while only 32 percent of the outbreak restaurants had a CKM. Certified food safety kitchen managers were also associated with the absence of bare-hand contact with food as a contributing factor for foodborne illness outbreaks, and with fewer norovirus and Clostridium perfringens outbreaks. The researchers surmised that since most staff training was done on the job, that the presence of a CKM probably improved the quality of food safety training provided to workers.
The presence of a CKM did not significantly affect the identification of ill food handlers in the restaurants, which is a common contributing factor for outbreaks and was a contributing factor in a majority (65 percent) of the cases evaluated by the researchers. The researchers suggest that this indicates either a lack of effective monitoring of employee illness or lack of commitment to enforcing policies regarding ill workers. They recommend that food safety training programs should put more emphasis on managing worker illnesses.
The study was published in the November issue of the Journal of Food Protection (C. Hedberg, et al. “Systematic Environmental Evaluations to Identify Food Safety Differences between Outbreak and Nonoutbreak Restaurants.” J. Food. Prot. 69. 11 (2006), pp. 2697-2702. An electronic reprint of the article is available from the EHS-Net Web site via www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/EHSNet/highlights.htm.
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