Study reveals good level of food hygiene knowledge and practices in restaurants but cautions with room for improvement

12 August, 2005. The results of a new study titled, ‘Food Safety Knowledge, Microbiology and Refrigeration Temperatures in Restaurant Kitchens in the island of Ireland’ were presented at a conference held in Teagasc, the National Food Centre earlier today.

The study found that, in general food handling practices in the restaurants were good. The research was commissioned by safefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board and conducted in 2002 by Teagasc and the University of Ulster. It involved a total of 200 restaurants throughout the island of Ireland.

Key Findings

In general food handling practices in the restaurants were good. There were some deficiencies observed and areas where improvements could be made were identified.

  • The most frequent shortcomings were the potential for cross-contamination with dishcloths, inadequate systems for inspection of deliveries and some structural and physical hygiene deficiencies.
  • Almost all of the establishments surveyed (99%) had a designated hand washing sink(s) with hot water and soap. 
  • Among kitchen managers there was a high level of knowledge of correct hot holding procedures for food. 92% knew that the current minimum temperature recommendation for food held in the bain marie was 63°C and 74% checked the temperature of this food.
  • The majority of kitchen managers (97%) knew the recommended chill storage temperature and 92% reported having a thermometer in the refrigerator. A temperature survey of refrigerators showed that they were operating within the recommended temperature range. 
  • Food delivery inspection systems varied considerably, however. Only 42% of kitchen managers reported that every delivery was checked.  Food delivery inspections should be comprehensive and include inspection of vehicles, personnel, ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates, packaging and temperature of the product.
  • Visual inspection and experience was used in the majority of restaurants to check that meat was adequately cooked. Less than half of restaurants (40%) reported using a temperature probe. The use of a temperature probe should be used in restaurants for checking that specific meats and poultry are properly cooked.

The study indicates that restaurants are implementing systems for the provision of safe food. The study highlighted that there is a good level of knowledge of food safety issues among restaurant staff and good practices generally prevail. The findings will enable proprietors, trainers and inspectors to target their resources at areas where practice still needs to be improved.

Thomas Quigley, Director Science and Technical, safefood said, “In a recent population based study*, over 70% of respondents suspected food consumed from restaurants, cafés, takeaways, canteens and pubs as the reason for their illness, so we would urge the catering industry to be vigilant about food safety in the kitchen and comply with the relevant legislation. Practical measures like the use of disposable dishcloths and the implementation of HACCP systems will go a long way to alleviate the burden of acute gastroenteritis in Ireland”.

Declan Bolton, Senior Research Officer, Teagasc said, “In analysing the findings, we have compiled a number of key recommendations which, if followed, will lead to considerable improvements in food safety knowledge and practices in restaurant kitchens. These recommendations have been set out as a guideline to the food service sector and are available from Teagasc’.

A second report, which was undertaken to examine the level of knowledge about food safety and food hygiene amongst over 1,000 householders on the island of Ireland was also officially released. Interestingly, this study revealed that householders who claimed that they, or a member of their family had suffered food poisoning in the previous 12 months, had higher bacterial counts and incidence of pathogens in their refrigerators.

Ends

For further information please contact

Sharon Murphy   
WHPR       
Tel: 01 6690030      
12TH August 2005

Editor’s Notes

‘Food Safety Knowledge, Microbiology and Refrigeration Temperatures in Restaurant Kitchens in the Island of Ireland’

Aim

The purpose of the study was to assess the level of food safety knowledge among head chefs and catering kitchen managers; examine hygiene levels within restaurant kitchens, while determining the incidence of bacterial pathogens and identify key areas where restaurants could improve levels of food safety and hygiene.

Key recommendations

  • The use of a temperature probe should be adopted as a standard technique for checking that specific meats and poultry are properly cooked in restaurant kitchens.
  • The promotion of specific guidelines for cooling cooked food is indicated, with emphasis on the needs of establishments without a blast chill facility.
  • The continued emphasis on guidance for structured and operational hygiene practices is justified.  Risks associated with cross-contamination merit particular attention.
  • Food delivery inspections should be comprehensive and include inspection of vehicles, personnel, ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates, packaging and temperature of the product.
  • The legislative requirements relating to the development, documentation and implementation of HACCP prerequisite and food safety systems should be continually emphasised and supported.
  • The positive results of this survey relating to a good level of knowledge of chill and hot-holding measures should be circulated as evidence of progress in good food safety practice.

*Scallan, E., Fitzgerald, M., Collins, C., Crowley, D., Daly, L., Devine, M., Igoe, D., Quigley, T., Robinson, T., Smyth, B.
‘Acute Gastroenteritis in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland: a telephone survey’ Communicable. Diseases and Public Health; 7(1): 61-67 (2004)

Source above: The economic burden of acute gastroenteritis on the island of Ireland is huge. A recent study found that it is estimated to result in 1.5 million working days lost, with loss of earnings alone estimated to be in the region of €175 million.