Ground Beef Handling and Cooking Practices in Restaurants in Eight States
Eating in table-service restaurants has been implicated as a risk factor for Escherichia coli O157:H7 infection. To explore this association and learn about the prevalence of risky ground beef preparation practices in restaurants, the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net) assessed ground beef handling policies and practices in restaurants in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Tennessee. Eligible restaurants prepared and served hamburgers. EHS-Net specialists interviewed a restaurant employee with authority over the kitchen (defined as the manager) using a standard questionnaire about food safety policies, hamburger preparation policies, and use of irradiated ground beef. Interviews were followed by observations of ground beef preparation. Data from 385 restaurants were analyzed: 67% of the restaurants were independently owned and 33% were chain restaurants; 75% of the restaurants were sit down, 19% were quick service or fast food, and 6% were cafeteria or buffet restaurants. Eighty-one percent of restaurants reported determining doneness of hamburgers by one or more subjective measures, and 49% reported that they never measure the final cook temperatures of hamburgers. At least two risky ground beef handling practices were observed in 53% of restaurants. Only 1% of restaurants reported purchasing irradiated ground beef, and 29% were unfamiliar with irradiated ground beef. Differences in risky ground beef handling policies and practices were noted for type of restaurant ownership (independently owned versus chain) and type of food service style (sit down versus quick service or fast food). This study revealed the pervasiveness of risky ground beef handling policies and practices in restaurants and the need for educational campaigns targeting food workers and managers. These results highlight the importance of continued efforts to reduce the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef.