Eating in Restaurants Doubles Your Chance Of Getting Sick

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If your preference is eating out, you might want to rethink that decision after a new report shows that the chance of getting food poisoning is more than doubled in restaurants.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest studied outbreaks from 2002 to 2011, in cases where both the contaminated food and pathogen were identified, finding that 1,610 outbreaks in restaurants sickened more than 28,000 people.

“This shows restaurants are not prioritizing food safety as much as they are prioritizing the more visible elements of their business” such as the taste of the food and the decor that are talked about on consumer websites such as Yelp, said Sarah Klein, a food safety attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Until restaurant food safety violations and performance are routinely measured in a public forum — restaurants will not put food safety as a priority.”

These findings should help consumers to realize that although cooking, preparing and storing food properly is essential to avoiding foodborne pathogens, that the risks are higher when trusting others with their methods.

“This report dispels the myth that if consumers would only cook their food properly, they wouldn’t get sick,” said Klein. “The numbers show that even in a restaurant, where food workers are required to undergo food safety training and are overseen by food safety managers, foodborne illness is still a concern.”

In their defense, The National Restaurant Association says the industry depends on safe ingredients and that it has trained more than 5.6 million food service workers in safe handling and serving of food.

However the numbers don't lie. According to the 17-page report, more people are sickened in restaurants than at home.

The issues restaurants face during food preparation are vastly different from a meal prepared at home.

“Dinnertime at home is unlikely to last six hours. At home, it’s a much more compressed time frame. In a restaurant, prep starts in the afternoon, and service can extend into late night. Food may be held at warm temperatures but not warm enough, or food that’s meant to be cold sits out too long,” Klein said. And cross-contamination in a kitchen can happen easily when the pace picks up during service.

The report’s findings echo a study published in 2006 by Dr. Tim Jones, Tennessee’s state epidemiologist, examining the risk factors associated with restaurant dining.

"Foodborne disease is a common, but preventable, burden of illness worldwide. Almost one-half of every dollar spent on food in the United States is spent on food from restaurants. A growing body of data from foodborne disease outbreaks and studies of sporadic (non–outbreak-associated) gastrointestinal disease of various etiologies suggest that eating food prepared in restaurants is an important source of infection", Jones said in the report.

Kline attributes most of foodborne illness to the methods used in slaughter and processing of meat products, and unsafe storage after cooking.

The recent report states that the prominent causes of food poisoning is related to contaminated produce, seafood, poultry, and beef - contributing to half of all outbreaks and illnesses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people are sickened annually, of which 128 thousand are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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