CDC releases new findings and prevention tools to improve food safety in restaurants

Washington, DC - Increased awareness and implementation of proper food safety in restaurants and delis may help prevent many of the foodborne illness outbreaks reported each year in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Researchers identified gaps in the education of restaurant workers as well as public health surveillance, two critical tools necessary in preventing a very common and costly public health problem.

The research identifies food preparation and handling practices, worker health policies, and hand-washing practices among the underlying environmental factors that often are not reported during foodborne outbreaks, even though nearly half of all the foodborne outbreaks that are reported each year are associated with restaurants or delis. Forty-eight million people become ill and 3,000 die in the United States.

"Inspectors have not had a formal system to capture and report the underlying factors that likely contribute to foodborne 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 CDC's Environmental Health Specialists Network team at the National Center for Environmental Health.

Four articles published today in the Journal of Food Protection focus on actions steps to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks related to ground beef, chicken, and leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach. The articles also focus on specific food safety practices, such as ill workers not working while they are sick, as a key prevention strategy.

Since 2000, CDC has worked with state and local health departments to develop new surveillance and training tools to advance the use of environmental health assessments as a part of foodborne outbreak investigations.

  • The National Voluntary Environmental Assessment Information System (NVEAIS) is a new surveillance system targeted to state, tribal and other localities that inspect and regulate restaurants and other food venues such as banquet facilities, schools, and other institutions. The system provides an avenue to capture underlying environmental assessment data that describes what happened and how events most likely lead to a foodborne outbreak. These data will help CDC and other public health professionals determine and understand more completely the primary and underlying causes of foodborne illness outbreaks.
  • A free interactive e-learning course has been developed to help state and local health departments investigate foodborne 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. This e-learning course is also available to members of the food industry, academia and the public, anyone interested in understanding the causes of foodborne 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 foodborne outbreaks," Selman said.

The data surveillance system and e-Learning course will debut in early 2014. With these tools, state, and local public health food safety programs will be able to report data from environmental assessments as a part of outbreak investigations and prevent future foodborne outbreaks in restaurants and other food service establishments.

CDC developed these products in collaboration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state and local health departments.

For more information about the National Voluntary Environmental Assessment Information System: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/EHSNet/resources/nveais.htm

For information about free e-Learning courses in Environmental Assessment of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/eLearn/EA_FIO/index.htm

For more information on the study findings: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/News/Features/2013/JFP-articles.html.

Additional information