FDA Announces New Surveys of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Restaurants, Retail Food Stores, and Foodservice Institutions

FDA has published notices announcing that, over the next 10 years, it plans to conduct surveys on the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors in restaurants, retail food stores, and foodservice institutions (e.g., hospitals, schools).

Pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act, FDA is required to provide a 60-day notice of a proposed collection of information before submitting it to the Office of Management and Budget for approval.  FDA is requesting comments, which are due February 9, 2015 and February 17, 2015, respectively.  See 79 Fed. Reg. 73596 (Dec. 11, 2014) (Survey on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Selected Restaurant Facility Types) and 79 Fed. Reg. 75158 (Dec. 17, 2014) (Survey on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Selected Institutional Foodservice and Retail Food Stores Facility Types).

The restaurant survey will span 10 years (2013-2022) and will include data collections in 2013-14 (data already collected and currently being analyzed), 2017-18, and 2021-22.  It will cover both full-service restaurants and fast food restaurants; the latter category includes both quick service restaurants and fast casual restaurants.  FDA’s 25 Regional Retail Food Specialists will contact a random sample of restaurants in its sampling zone, but industry participation is voluntary.

The retail food store and institutional foodservice study will also span 10 years (2015-2025), and will include data collections in 2015-16, 2019-20, and 2023-24.  It will cover: supermarkets and grocery stores that have a deli department or operation, public and private schools for grades K-12 that serve prepare and serve meals to students, and hospitals and long-term care facilities that prepare and serve meals to highly susceptible populations.  The survey will not cover facilities that handle only prepackaged foods or that conduct low-risk food preparation activities.  In the case of grocery stores, FDA will collect data on: deli departments, seafood departments, cheese departments, fresh produce departments, salad bars, pizza stations, and other areas where foods are prepared and offered as ready to eat.  Each of FDA’s 25 Regional Retail Food Specialists will contact a random sample of retail stores and foodservice establishments in its sampling zone, but industry participation is voluntary.

The two studies will look at “foodborne illness risk factors,” which are preparation practices and employee behaviors that are most commonly reported as contributing factors to foodborne illness outbreaks at the retail level.  The five key risk factors are: food from unsafe sources, poor personal hygiene, inadequate cooking, improper holding/time and temperature, and contaminated equipment/cross-contamination.

The objectives of the studies are to:

  • Identify foodborne illness risk factors that need priority attention;
  • Track trends in the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors over time;
  • Examine potential correlations between the operational characteristics of food establishments (g., corporate ownership versus independent ownership) and the control of foodborne illness risk factors;
  • Examine potential correlations between the elements of a regulatory retail food protection program (g., inspection frequency, grading, posting of scores) and the control of foodborne illness risk factors; and
  • Evaluate the impact of industry food safety management systems (g., written standard operating procedures, training) on the control of foodborne illness risk factors.

FDA intends to use the study results to:

  • Assist FDA in developing retail food safety initiatives and policies;
  • Identify retail food safety work plan priorities to assist with allocation of resources;
  • Track changes in the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors in retail and foodservice establishments; and
  • Inform recommendations to industry and to state, local, tribal, and territorial regulators.

Although not stated by FDA, the survey results could lead to changes in the Retail Food Code.

These studies represent a continuation of FDA’s previous 10-year studies of retail food safety risk factors initiated in 1998.  In 2010, FDA released two reports on those studies: FDA Report on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Selected Institutional Foodservice, Restaurant, and Retail Food Store Facility Types (2009) and FDA Trend Analysis Report on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Selected Institutional Foodservice, Restaurant, and Retail Food Store Facility Types (1998-2008).

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