Friday, December 9, 2016

Study - Restaurant Servers Poor At Communicating Risk of Undercooked Meat

A recent study shows that restaurant servers do a poor job in explaining the risks when customers order undercooked meat, specifically hamburgers.  The majority of servers (77 percent) gave customers unreliable information conveying the risks of undercooked meat.   As we know, raw hamburger can have pathogens such as E. coli STEC and Salmonella.  While it is the consumers choice to buy rare or medium rare hamburgers, they should understand the risk. 

In the end, informing customers helps the restaurant protect themselves from liability.   Just last year, an outbreak in Vermont occurred when a restaurant was purposely selling undercooked hamburgers.  Of course there is the case that was the impetus for enacting the regulation requiring HACCP regulations in meat operations - Jack in the Box.

Study: Restaurants not good at explaining risks of undercooked meat to customers
By Michael Fielding on 12/9/2016

Front-line staff, such as servers in restaurants, are often trusted with providing customers with food safety information regarding their meals. A challenge to the foodservice industry is that these positions have high turnover, relatively low wages, and servers are focused primarily on providing patrons with a positive experience — nd new research shows that this poses a food safety risk.

A recent study finds restaurants don’t do an effective job of communicating with customers when it comes to addressing risks associated with eating undercooked meat — specifically hamburgers. Inaccurate information provided by servers often contradicts science-based information customers need to make informed food safety decisions, researchers found.

All 50 states have adopted some version of the Food & Drug Administration’s Model Food Code, which requires restaurants to tell customers about risks associated with undercooked meat and poultry products.

“We wanted to know how well restaurant servers and menus communicated with customers about these risks, specifically in the context of beef hamburgers,” said Ben Chapman, co-author of a study on the work and an associate professor at North Carolina State University whose research program is aimed at improving food safety.

The researchers focused on beef hamburgers because consuming undercooked ground beef has been linked to a lot of foodborne illness outbreaks, including outbreaks related primarily to Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

For the study, the researchers sent trained “secret shoppers” into 265 full-service, sit-down restaurants in seven different regions around the country. At each restaurant, the patrons ordered one well-done hamburger and one medium-rare hamburger to go. The shoppers then recorded how, if at all, the restaurant communicated about risk.

The study found that 25 percent of restaurants wouldn’t even sell an undercooked hamburger to secret shoppers. However, at restaurants that would sell a medium-rare hamburger, the majority of servers — 77 percent — gave customers unreliable information about food safety.

“Servers said that meat was safe because it was cooked until ‘until the juices ran clear’ – which is totally unreliable,” added Ellen Thomas, a food safety scientist at RTI International and lead author of the study who worked on the project while a Ph.D. student at NC State. “Those 77 percent didn’t mention things like cooking meat to the appropriate temperature – either 155°F for 15 seconds, or 160°F for instant kill.

“The indicator of safety most widely reported by servers was the color of the burger, and that’s also not a reliable indicator at all,” Thomas says “Time and temperature are all that matter.

The paper, “Assessment of Risk Communication about Undercooked Hamburgers by Restaurant Servers,” is published in the Journal of Food Protection. The paper was co-authored by Andrew Binder, Anne McLaughlin, Lee-Ann Jaykus, and Dana Hanson of NC State; and by Doug Powell of

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