Food Safety: 44% of Food-Borne Illnesses Linked to Restaurants

In a recent study, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) found that 44 percent of incidences of food-borne illness can be traced to restaurants, compared to 24 percent of food poisoning that can be traced to the patient’s home. This means that for the 44 percent of Americans who eat in a restaurant each day face double the likelihood of getting a food-borne illness than for those who eat at home.

Given these statistics, how do you know which restaurants to avoid? Typically, health violations like raw meat coming into contact with other foods and restaurant employees failing to wash their hands are most likely to make customers ill. However, the study found no statistically significant differences in likelihood of illness between fast food restaurants, casual dining, and four-star establishments. In fact, because the kitchen staff in more expensive restaurants typically does more cooking than at places where everything is prepackaged, more room for error is introduced.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus and salmonella are the most common types of food-borne illness in the United States. Many outbreaks can be linked to a specific food, most commonly eggs, meat and poultry, leafy greens and dairy products.

Regardless of where you choose to eat, there are steps you can take to help prevent illness. If any of your food tastes strange or seems undercooked, do not hesitate to send it back. In addition, before trying a new restaurant, check out reviews online to make sure that your desired spot does not have low marks for cleanliness. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration requires restaurants to be regularly inspected and graded for health violations. In some municipalities, such as New York City, letter grades from these inspections must be publicly posted at the establishment.

Clean cutlery and menus, a pristine open kitchen, and clean bathrooms are clear signs that a restaurant takes cleanliness seriously. Contrary to popular belief, food handlers should not wear rubber or plastic gloves, but should wash hands frequently for 15-20 seconds with hot water and soap. Using due diligence when you eat at a restaurant can help keep you from contracting a dangerous food-borne illness.