Don’t Trust Your Waiter for Food Safety Advice

Matt Shipman, Research Communications Lead at NC State News Services and contributor to The Abstract (and all-around great guy) writes,

I went out for lunch recently at an upscale restaurant. Other guests wore suits, there was an extensive wine list, and the server was extremely upbeat. What she didn’t know, and I did, was that my guest for lunch was a food safety expert – and her tableside manner was being judged.

Shortly after being seated, my dining companion pointed to the bottom of the menu.

“Consuming undercooked meats may increase risk of foodborne illness,” said Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at NC State. “It’s right there on the menu. Now let’s see if the server follows through.”hamburger-blog-2016-header-992x558

When the server returned, Chapman ordered a medium-rare hamburger. The server didn’t mention anything, so Chapman asked how the restaurant knew whether the burger would be safe to eat.

The server said that the cooks could tell whether the hamburger was safe by feeling how firm the burger was, and noted that lots of people order medium-rare hamburgers and don’t get sick. Chapman changed his order to well-done anyway, and the server left to get our drinks.

“This,” Chapman said, “is basically everything that can go wrong with how restaurant servers share food safety information with consumers: the menu gives patrons vague, but accurate, information. And the server gave us information that’s inaccurate and not based on the science.”

And Chapman knows what he’s talking about – he just published a paper evaluating how restaurants handle food safety communication, based on the experiences of “secret shoppers” at 265 different restaurants scattered across the United States. You can read more about that paper here.

So what does make a hamburger safer?

  • Cooking hamburgers to 155°F for 15 seconds or 160°F (for an instant kill).
  • Restaurants are required to cook to these temperatures in many jurisdictions unless requested to do otherwise by a customer.
  • Restaurants should have thermometers in the kitchen; if they don’t, you may want to reconsider your dining choice.
  • Don’t trust color (no red or pink) as an indicator of safety.
  • Just because the juices are “running clear” doesn’t mean the burger has reached a safe temperature.
  • The touch, feel or look of the meat are not reliable ways of determining how well cooked the hamburger is.

The study, which was performed by a team of researchers from NC State and RTI International, is published in the Journal of Food Protection.

Study: Restaurants Not Good At Explaining Risks of Undercooked Meat to Customers

When I was eleven my parents took me to Disney World in Florida. I don’t remember much about the trip other than we rode space mountain, went to Epcot, and did the backlot tram tour at what was then called MGM Studios.

And I remember the burger I had one night at a restaurant on International Drive.24235f1049c18d3d50fd3c0017886141

It was the juiciest, tastiest burger I had ever had.

It was really undercooked, I ordered it medium rare.

I don’t think ordering burgers undercooked was an option in Ontario. I had never been offered a choice before.

No one told me or my parents that there was increased risk of illness eating undercooked meat. Maybe there was a consumer advisory on the menu. But probably not, I don’t remember seeing it. This was 1989, before Jack-in-the-Box. After McDonalds in 1982.

While golfing at IAFP in 2005, Doug and I were in line for burgers in-between the front and back nine. The cook asked the group in front of us how they wanted their burgers. One guy responded, “Bloody … with cheese.”

No one said anything about the risks.

Over the next nine holes we talked about servers as risk communicators, figuring out what they knew, what they said and how to get better information to patrons.

Years later, as part of a USDA CAP grant my former PhD student and current Food Safety Scientist at RTI International, Ellen Thomas, would lead the first part of this work and found that servers aren’t great at helping folks makes informed decisions. That paper was publish today.

NC State University’s press release about the paper is below.

Front-line staff, such as servers in restaurants, are often trusted with providing customers with food safety information regarding their meals.  A challenge to the industry is that these positions have high turnover, relatively low wages and servers are focused primarily on providing patrons with a positive experience. And new research shows that this poses a problem.

A recent study finds that restaurants don’t do an effective job of communicating with customers when it comes to addressing risks associated with eating undercooked meat – specifically hamburgers. Inaccurate information provided by servers often contradicts science-based information customers need to make informed food safety decisions.

All 50 states in the U.S. have adopted some version of the Food & Drug Administration’s Model Food Code, which requires restaurants to tell customers about risks associated with undercooked meat and poultry products. Such as hamburgers.

“We wanted to know how well restaurant servers and menus communicated with customers about these risks, specifically in the context of beef hamburgers,” says Ben Chapman, co-author of a study on the work and an associate professor at North Carolina State University whose research program is aimed at improving food safety.

The researchers focused on beef hamburgers because consuming undercooked ground beef has been linked to a lot of foodborne illness outbreaks, including outbreaks related primarily to Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

For this study, the researchers sent trained “secret shoppers” into 265 full-service, sit-down restaurants in seven different regions around the U.S. At each restaurant, the patrons ordered one well-done hamburger and one medium-rare hamburger to go. The shoppers then recorded how, if at all, the restaurant communicated about risk.

This study is the latest in a long line of real-world research that Chapman and his collaborators have conducted.

“We try to actually match what people do versus what they say they do because people will say anything on a survey,” says Chapman “We’ve looked at cooking shows; observed handwashing and cross-contamination in commercial kitchens; hand hygiene during a norovirus outbreaks and others. What people actually do is the difference between an enjoyable meal and a foodborne illness.

“For example,” Chapman says, “did the server mention risks associated with undercooked meat when the shopper ordered? If not, the shopper would ask about the risk of getting sick, and then record whether the wait staff responded with clear, accurate information.”

The shoppers also looked to see whether restaurants included clear, accurate risk information on their menus.

The study found that 25 percent of restaurants wouldn’t even sell an undercooked hamburger to secret shoppers. However, at restaurants that would sell a medium-rare hamburger, the majority of servers – 77 percent – gave customers unreliable information about food safety.

“Servers said that meat was safe because it was cooked until ‘until the juices ran clear’ – which is totally unreliable,” says Ellen Thomas, a food safety scientist at RTI International and lead author of the study who worked on the project while a Ph.D. student at NC State. “Those 77 percent didn’t mention things like cooking meat to the appropriate temperature – either 155°F for 15 seconds, or 160°F for instant kill.

“The indicator of safety most widely-reported by servers was the color of the burger, and that’s also not a reliable indicator at all,” Thomas says “Time and temperature are all that matter. And undercooked, unsafe burger can be brown in the middle, and a safely cooked burger can still be red or pink in the center.”

Meanwhile, almost all of the menus complied with FDA guidance. But what servers told customers often contradicted the information on the menu.

“If a menu says something is risky but a server says that it isn’t, that can downplay the risks for consumers and impact a customer’s decisions,” Chapman says. “It’s confusing, leaving the patron to choose which message to believe”

The researchers also found that chain restaurants fared much better than independent restaurants at having servers offer reliable risk information.

“That’s not surprising,” Chapman says. “Large chains implement standardized training across all outlets for servers in order to protect their brand and reduce the likelihood of being implicated in a foodborne illness outbreak. That’s bad for business.

“This study tells us that servers aren’t good risk communicators,” Chapman says. “We encourage consumers to ask food safety questions, but they should probably ask a manager.

“It also tells us that we need to work on addressing the widespread – and wrong – belief that color is a reliable indicator of food safety in meat,” Chapman says. “Restaurants are in a position to help us share this information with consumers, but many servers are currently sharing incorrect information.”

The paper, “Assessment of Risk Communication about Undercooked Hamburgers by Restaurant Servers,” is published in the Journal of Food Protection. The paper was co-authored by Andrew Binder, Anne McLaughlin, Lee-Ann Jaykus, and Dana Hanson of NC State; and by Doug Powell of barfblog.com. The research was supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-68003-30155 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Abstract: According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2013 Model Food Code, it is the duty of a food establishment to disclose and remind consumers of risk when ordering undercooked food such as ground beef. The purpose of this study was to explore actual risk communication activities of food establishment servers. Secret shoppers visited restaurants (n=265) in seven geographic locations across the U.S., ordered medium rare burgers, and collected and coded risk information from chain and independent restaurant menus and from server responses. The majority of servers reported an unreliable method of doneness (77%) or other incorrect information (66%) related to burger doneness and safety. These results indicate major gaps in server knowledge and risk communication, and the current risk communication language in the Model Food Code does not sufficiently fill these gaps. Furthermore, should servers even be acting as risk communicators? There are numerous challenges associated with this practice including high turnover rates, limited education, and the high stress environment based on pleasing a customer. If it is determined that servers should be risk communicators, food establishment staff should be adequately equipped with consumer advisory messages that are accurate, audience-appropriate, and delivered in a professional manner so as to help their customers make more informed food safety decisions.

What’s the risk of bloody with cheese?

When I was eleven my parents took me to Disney World in Florida. I don’t remember much about the trip other than we rode space mountain, went to Epcot, and did the backlot tram tour at what was then called MGM Studios.

And I remember the burger I had one night at a restaurant on International Drive.

It was the juiciest, tastiest burger I had ever had.images-1

It was really undercooked, I ordered it medium rare.

I don’t think ordering burgers undercooked was an option in Ontario. I had never been offered a choice before.

No one told me or my parents that there was increased risk of illness eating undercooked meat. Maybe there was a consumer advisory on the menu. But probably not, I don’t remember seeing it. This was 1989, before Jack-in-the-Box. After McDonalds in 1982.

While golfing at IAFP in 2005, Doug and I were in line for burgers in-between the front and back nine. The cook asked the group in front of us how they wanted their burgers. One guy responded, “Bloody … with cheese.”

No one said anything about the risks.

Over the next nine holes we talked about servers as risk communicators, figuring out what they knew, what they said and how to get better information to patrons.

Years later, as part of a USDA CAP grant Ellen Thomas would lead the first part of this work and found that servers aren’t great at helping folks makes informed decisions (more on that when the paper comes out).

Sometimes managers and owners try to get their customers information by signing a disclaimer; I wonder what kind of risk information is in the documents.

The Kingswood Arms in Waterhouse Lane was downgraded from a 5 to a 1 following a visit in February, a decision that has left landlord Tony Slayford furious.

He told the Mirror: “That is the only reason why we went to number 1, which I am absolutely disgusted about. They were happy with all the cleanliness. Everything is spot on.”

The pub has been offering burgers cooked medium-to-rare for more than five years, but has always asked customers to sign a disclaimer beforehand.

Moldy bun on airport burger: Australian man wants apology

A Melbourne Airport traveler is in a bun fight with a fast food franchise after claiming he chowed down on a moldy burger.

burger.mold.melbourneCameron Baker said he’s still looking for an apology from Oporto after biting into what he claims was a mold-ridden burger at its Melbourne Airport store in October last year.

He said he had eaten most of the burger before realizing there was an extra condiment and took it to the manager, who had promised he would be contacted by someone.

But according to Mr Baker, he was contacted by Delaware North, which manages and delivers catering and service at various retail outlets at Melbourne Airport.

He claimed they had “accepted no responsibility for the moldy burger” and had informed him not to discuss it with anyone.

“Everybody just tried to sweep it under the rug,” he said.

“(They told me) ‘we consider this matter closed’.”

Mr Baker had been on a stopover in Melbourne on his way back to Queensland following a short stint in Hobart.

He said he’d been immediately unwell as a result and had, until recently, been unable to eat meat.

He said he was slowly starting to eat meats again.

‘There’s a poop in my burger’ – 16 of worst prank 999 calls to Cambridgeshire police amid sharp rise

Sorenne said the other day, the emergency number in Spain is 112.

sorenne.science.fair.aug.15We checked it out and she was right.

She said someone spoke in her grade 1 class about telephones.

We emphasized that the emergency number in Australia is 000.

In North America its 911, and apparently in the UK it’s 999.

A child asking for toilet roll and a report of a “poop in my burger” are among a tripling in the number of hoax 999 calls to Cambridgeshire police prompting a stark warning.

Valuable police time is being taken up by hoax and malicious callers reported fake crimes and emergencies.

A total of 366 calls deemed “inappropriate” were made to the force last year up from 109 the previous year and from January to October this year a total of 259 of the calls have been made.

Figures released using freedom of information laws also show that between August 2010 to July 2011 a total of 590 calls were made to the force that were deemed a “hoax”.

The number increased in the same period the following year to 604 and fell to 587 from August 2012 to July 2013. And the total number of officers deployed to the calls over the three years was 1,074.

The number of crimes linked to the hundreds of hoax calls was 17.

A police spokeswoman said: “The force has seen a rise in the number of hoax calls for service in the last couple of years.

“When a call for service comes in we have a duty to take that report seriously, and by wasting police time on dealing with fictitious calls people are seriously jeopardising the safety of those in genuine need of police help.”

Cambridgeshire police has released a list of hoax calls.

  A youth called, saying ‘your mum’ a couple of times, and then hung up

  Child called saying a robber had stolen his ‘di*k’, laughed, then hung up

  Fake call about an ‘orange glow’ coming from a house – regular hoax caller about fires as ‘likes seeing firefighters’ turn up

  Child asked for a toilet roll and then hung up

  Drunk person telling us they were off to get a kebab

  Child wanting to order a pizza

  Child saying their friend has been kidnapped and killed, laughing, swearing and hung up

  Fake reports of break ins

  Claims that a school was on fire

  Man saying ‘yeah, me and my girlfriend are hard core’ then hung up

  Woman reporting in hospital and nurses have taken her cigarettes off her (not mental health related)

  ‘I meant to call my friend’

  ‘There is a poop in my burger’

  ‘F**k you’

  Neighbour is killing my chickens

  Girl claiming to have been beaten up and was bleeding from ‘everywhere’ when we said we could she her on CCTV she hung up.

 

Spam burger in Sydney

Amy was born in Albert Lea, Minnesota, next door to Austin, MN, the home of Spam.

spam.burgersProving that it really is 1978 in Australia, a popular Sydney bar is now serving a Spam burger.

Bloody Mary’s in Sydney’s Darlinghurst is known for its Instagram-worthy, American diner-style creations and of course, top-notch Bloody Marys made with homemade tomato juice.

The spam burger costs $16 and comes with grilled spam, bacon, lettuce, tomato, pineapple, mayonnaise and mustard.

“We put it on the menu two weeks ago and it’s going off, it’s crazy,” owner Cinta Rockey told news.com.au.

Ellen Thomas: Thermometers only way to know a burger is safe

Ellen Thomas, a PhD student in food science at North Carolina State University who enjoys running, baking, and playing the violin, writes:

I’ve ordered a crazy number of burgers over the past year. This isn’t because I constantly crave red meat, I’m just interested in what restaurant servers say about eating undercooked burgers.

An E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, which sickened 11 people in 4 different states, has been linked to undercooked burgers at restaurants. Over 1.8 million pounds of ground beef have been recalled.

hamburger.thermometerThe FDA Food Code, adopted in some form by most states, says that it is the duty of the restaurant to disclose risk information around consuming undercooked hamburgers and remind people when they order. Sometimes this is included on the menu, sometimes the servers engage patrons. However, there is no data about whether this actually occurs.

To capture this data, I’ve trained a legion of secret shoppers to order burgers cooked medium rare, and record the risk information provided on menus and by servers.

It’s been an enlightening process.

A lot of servers talk about color, some talk about temperature, others talk about the firmness of the burger.

There have been numerous situations where a server simply says, “the cook just knows what they’re doing.” A lot of servers assure the secret shoppers that eating a medium rare burger is perfectly safe.

And some responses have been shocking like the server who volunteered, “You’ll be fine eating it medium rare- my sister ate a burger that was raw in the middle when she was pregnant and she was just fine.”

rare.hamburgerUnfortunately, misinformation about cooking burgers is widespread. When interviewed by 22News following the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, Joe Igner, owner of Local Burger in Northampton, Massachusetts, said that he “never had a problem with E. coli” because “it’s recommended to cook ground beef at least 4 minutes and up to 7 minutes on each side.” Nowhere did Igner mention thermometer use. He also stated, “We don’t get it from a processing plant and that’s a big difference because when they process, they process beef and turkey and if they don’t change the blades, that’s when somebody’s going to get sick.”

This is simply not true. Contamination can occur at any point when processing, handling, and preparing raw ground beef, including in a restaurant kitchen, even if it is ground in house.

Sydney Lupkin of ABC writes, So how do you know if your hamburger’s safe? It’s not as simple as you think.

“With ground beef, color is not a reliable indicator of doneness,” said Marianne Graveley, a specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s meat and poultry hotline.

Meat that’s still pink may be well-done, Graveley said, and meat that’s brown may need more heat.

“We used to have different campaign: It’s done when it’s brown in middle,” she said. “Now we say to use a meat thermometer. It’s the only way to know that it’s safe.”

USDA recommends that hamburgers be cooked to at least 160 degrees internally. But it’s no secret that few of us take the temperature of our patties, and many of us prefer them rare.

“We would never recommend that,” Graveley said. “The risk of food poisoning is too great. People have gotten very sick from very small amount of food. We just don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

hamburger-safe and unsafe-thumb-450x138-175The server response that sticks with me the most is, “I’m just a server- I don’t know what the cooks do.” This may seem like a reasonable statement; servers are usually tending to numerous tables in a very high-paced environment and only pass through the kitchen to pick up dishes.

When digging into the current outbreak, it’s curious to think whether illnesses have occurred had risks been effectively communicated to consumers. What I’m trying to figure out is how much do servers play a role in advising consumers of their food choices?

Ordering all of these burgers shows me that there are gaps between what happens in a kitchen and what a server tells restaurant patrons. As the server is typically the liaison between the kitchen and the consumer, these gaps mark crucial points where risk information could occur and it is not happening.

‘Not in our culture to eat horse meat’; horse, pig DNA found in Irish supermarket burgers

Traces of horse meat have been found in burgers on sale in some of the country’s busiest supermarkets, food safety chiefs have revealed.

Scientific tests on beef products sold in Tesco, Dunnes StoresLidlAldi and Iceland uncovered low levels of the animal’s DNA.

Professor Alan Reilly, chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), said there was no health risk but also no reasonable horse.meat.09explanation for horse meat to be found.

“The products we have identified as containing horse DNA and/or pig DNA do not pose any food safety risk and consumers should not be worried,” he said.

According to the research by the FSAI, one sample of burger goods, Tesco Everyday Value Beef Burgers, showed about 29% horse meat relative to beef content.

“Whilst there is a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA in these products due to the fact that meat from different animals is processed in the same meat plants, there is no clear explanation at this time for the presence of horse DNA in products emanating from meat plants that do not use horse meat in their production process,” Prof Reilly said.

“In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horse meat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger.”

Tennessee woman arrested for calling 911 to complain about ‘nasty’ hamburger from Hardee’s

The latest entry to our food-related 911 Hall of Shame is Donna Marie Nichols of Rockwood, Tennessee (right, exactly as shown) who called 911 twice to complain about a substandard fast food hamburger.
In one call, obtained by the website The Smoking Gun, Ms Nichols, 50, tells the 911 dispatcher that the burger is "no good" and "nasty."

When deputies arrived at her home, she said that she had called the restaurant before she called 911 and the manager had offered her a refund for her food, according to WCRB.

She was arrested on abuse of 911 charges and booked into the Roane County Jail. She was released Monday night.

Previously, customers have been popped for calling 911 to register dismay about Burger King lemonade, McDonald’s McNuggets, and pizza.

Epidemiology can work; Salmonella Hadar found in fingered Jennie-O turkey burgers

Oh frozen food, you are so helpful during investigations of foodborne illness.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported last night, in its best CDC-speak,

“Collaborative investigative efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies have linked this outbreak to eating turkey burgers. Investigators were not able to determine consumption of turkey burgers for all case-patients. However, FSIS determined that at least three of the case-patients in Colorado, Ohio, and Wisconsin specifically reported eating Jennie-O Turkey burgers the week before their illness began. Samples of Jennie-O ground turkey burgers were collected by public health agencies from the homes of case-patients in Colorado and Wisconsin who tested positive for the outbreak strain of Salmonella Hadar. Both turkey burger samples were positive for the outbreak strain. States have reported antibiotic resistance of the outbreak strain to several clinically useful drugs including ampicillin, amoxicillin/clavulanate, cephalothin, and tetracycline.

"As of April 1, 2011, 12 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Hadar have been reported from 10 states: Arizona (1 case), California (1 case), Colorado (1 case), Georgia (1 case), Illinois (1 case), Missouri (1 case), Mississippi (1 case), Ohio (1 case), Washington (1 case), and Wisconsin (3 cases). Isolation dates range from December 27, 2010 to March 24, 2011. Ill persons range in age from 1 year to 86 years old, with a median age of 29 years old. Sixty-three percent are female. Among the 12 ill persons with available information, three have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported."