Hidden cameras show poor food safety

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 9th June 2010

A study from North Carolina State University has revealed that, even in kitchens that believe they are operating well, food safety violations are commonplace.

The study, published in the Journal of Food Protection, placed cameras in unobtrusive spots in eight volunteer commercial kitchens. Where previous studies have relied on inspection results and self reporting, recordings show very different results

“We found a lot more risky practices in some areas than we expected,” said lead researcher Dr Ben Chapman.

For example, where previous studies found that cross-contamination – say, a knife used to cut raw meat and then a finished sandwich – was fairly infrequent, Chapman’s study found as many as eight cross-contaminations per worker in an eight-hour shift.

“Each of these errors would have been deemed a violation under U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code inspection guidelines. But more importantly, cross-contamination has the potential to lead to foodborne illnesses, and has, in recent outbreaks,” Chapman says.

“And it’s important to note that the food-service providers we surveyed in this study reflected the best practices in the industry for training their staff.”

The study also confirmed the long-held suspicion that more food-safety mistakes are made when a kitchen is busier. “During peak hours, we found increases in cross-contamination and decreases in workers complying with hand-washing guidelines,” Chapman said.

As well as providing strong evidence of the problems in ensuring food safety, Chapman’s team also offered suggestions to improve food safety, including stronger teamwork and better tools, scheduling and procedures.

“This study shows us that each food handler is operating as part of a system,” Chapman said.

“The food-safety culture of the overall organization – the kitchen and the management – needs to be addressed in order to effect change.”