Fancy food ain’t safe food, Chicago edition

Posted on December 30, 2011 by

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Does posting restaurant inspection results online do any good?

 by Doug Powell

Pete Snyder told the Chicago Tribune he’s not a fan of publishing the results of spot inspections online because “there is no evidence that posting does any good.”

Instead, he favors a system where employees are trained by food service managers in controlling safety hazards, then demonstrate their mastery of the procedures to an inspector.

“This is the only effective full-control program,” said Snyder, founder of the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management in St. Paul, Minn. “The reason inspectors don’t do this and (instead) simply inspect for things is because it takes too long.”

What evidence is there that Pete’s program does any good?

What evidence is there that all those food safety messages repeated ad nauseam, especially during the holidays, do any good? (None)

What evidence is there food safety training programs do any good? (it’s mixed, but fairly lousy; more on that in a month).

In Sept.. 2007, my friend Frank was running food safety things at Disney in Orlando, and asked me to visit and speak with his staff.

“Doug, I want you to talk about food safety messages that have been proven to work, that are supported by peer-reviewed evidence and lead to demonstrated behavior change,” or something like that.

I said it would be a brief talk.

There was nothing – nothing – that could be rigorously demonstrated to have changed food safety behavior in any group, positive or negative. Everything was about as effective as those, ‘Employees must wash hands’ signs.

Chapman finally showed a food safety message can be translated into better food safety practices at food service; but that took direct video observation. After exposure to food safety infosheets, cross-contamination events went down 20 per cent, and handwashing attempts went up 7 per cent. We controlled for various factors as best we could.

Pete is right in that “there’s no evidence that posting does any good” but only because there’s no evidence that most things do any good.

I want to figure out how to best collect evidence that is compelling and meaningful, right or wrong.

We’ve reviewed the literature, we’ve trialed a disclosure program in New Zealand, and compiled a lot of anecdotal evidence from restaurant patrons and managers who say public disclosure of inspection grades keeps everyone awake. It can’t be linked to lower or higher rates of foodborne illness, despite some attempts to do so, but public disclosure does seem to insert some consideration of microbial food safety into a national conversation of food that is dominated by porn.

I haven’t figured out how to measure that.

Snyder did say that a restaurant with multiple, back-to-back failed inspections is “an indication the manager isn’t paying attention.”

Posted in: Family safety