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Study Examines Why Restaurant Workers Don't Wash Hands and Follow Other Food Safety Practices

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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 State University study, restaurant workers blame time constraints, inconvenience, inadequate training and inadequate resources for failure to follow food safety practices.

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 managers:

* Provide regular food safety training to their foodservice employees;

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