Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have identified gaps in the education of restaurant workers and a lack of public health data from the food service sector as two areas that if improved may help reduce the incidence of food-borne illness outbreaks.
Research conducted by the C.D.C. identified food preparation and handling practices, worker health policies, and hand-washing practices among the underlying environmental factors that often are not reported during food-borne illness outbreaks, even though nearly half of all the food-borne outbreaks that are reported each year in the United States are associated with restaurants or delis. In response, the agency is introducing two initiatives to improve food safety at the food service level.
“Inspectors have not had a formal system to capture and report the underlying factors that likely contribute to food-borne outbreaks or a way to inform prevention strategies and implement routine corrective measures in restaurants, delis and schools to prevent future outbreaks,” said Carol Selman, head of the C.D.C.’s Environmental Health Specialists Network team at the National Center for Environmental Health.
One system is the National Voluntary Environmental Assessment Information System, surveillance effort intended to inspect and regulate restaurants and other food venues such as banquet facilities, schools, and other institutions. The system will provide an avenue to capture underlying environmental assessment data that describes what happened and how events most likely lead to a food-borne outbreak. The data will help the C.D.C. and other public health professionals determine and understand more completely the primary and underlying causes of food-borne illness outbreaks.
The second initiative is an interactive e-learning course that has been developed to help state and local health departments investigate food-borne illness outbreaks in restaurants and other food service venues as a member of a larger outbreak response team, identify an outbreak's environmental causes, and recommend appropriate control measures. The e-learning course also will be available to the food industry, academia, the public and anyone interested in understanding the causes of food-borne outbreaks.
“We are taking a key step forward in capturing critical data that will allow us to assemble a big picture view of the environmental causes of food-borne outbreaks,” Ms. Selman said.
Both systems will be available starting in 2014. Follow this link to learn more about the National Voluntary Environmental Assessment Information System and follow this link to learn more about the e-Learning courses within the Environmental Assessment of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks.