Why do restaurant workers -- who handle an estimated 70 billion meals
and snacks in the U.S.
every year -- sometimes not follow common food safety practices such as
washing their hands properly or keeping work surfaces sanitary?
According to a recent Kansas
study, restaurant workers blame time constraints, inconvenience, inadequate
training and inadequate resources for failure to follow food safety
K-State researchers conducted focus groups with restaurant employees
to identify perceived barriers to handwashing,
cleaning work surfaces and using food thermometers. Foodborne
illnesses are most commonly caused by poor personal hygiene, cross
contamination and improper time/temperature controls.
Barriers, they found, were not only a lack of food safety knowledge
but also often a lack of understanding why employees should comply with
food safety guidelines. Previous research indicated that training increases
knowledge regarding food safety issues, but that knowledge does not always
translate into improved behaviors.
"We have used the results of this study to develop and implement
an intervention program to address the barriers that training
appears," said Amber D. Howells, an instructor of dietetics,
registered dietitian and the study's first author.
The restaurant industry employs 13.1 million people, and 59 percent
of reported foodborne illness outbreaks were
associated with restaurants in 2005. Howells said outbreaks usually are
directly related to food-handler error.
Because of the study, K-State researchers recommend that restaurant
* Provide regular food safety training to their foodservice
employees about the consequences of improper food handling to improve
attitudes toward food safety;
signs about consequences of improper food handling in food production
food safety compliance with verbal reminders and praise;
* Be good
Incorporate food safety practices into employees' daily routines to
eliminate the perceptions that they do not have time to perform them.
researchers with the K-State's department of hospitality management and
dietetics involved with the study included Betsy B. Barrett, associate
professor and a registered dietitian; Kevin R. Roberts, assistant
professor; and Carol W. Shanklin, professor,
interim dean of the Graduate School and a registered dietitian. Also
involved were Valerie K. York, an evaluator in K-State's office of
educational innovation and evaluation, and Laura A. Brannon, associate
professor of psychology.
study, two series of focus groups were conducted. Focus groups were to
identify obvious barriers to following safe food preparation practices. The
34 participants in Group A, all restaurant employees involved in food
preparation, received no special food safety training. The 125 participants
in the second series of focus groups, Group B, were divided into 20 focus
groups and received four hours of formal training from certified ServSafe instructors.
found that employees did not comply with food safety guidelines because of
a variety of perceived barriers.
In Group A,
additional barriers identified lack of space and other tasks competing with
cleaning work surfaces; inconvenient location of sinks and having dry skin
limiting hand-washing; and lack of working thermometers and thermometers in
agreed with Group A, but added other barriers: lack of incentive to clean
work surfaces and manager not monitoring the work and manager not
monitoring the use of thermometers.
results were published in the August 2008 issue of the Journal of the
American Dietetic Association. The study was funded by a grant from the
U.S. Department of Agriculture to Shanklin. The
$482,763 grant also is funding other food safety research.