A new FDA report on foodborne illness risk factors in restaurants shows that, contrary to general opinion, fast-food restaurants have tended to be more in compliance with food safety practices than full-service restaurants. This result, from 2013-14 data, is from the first phase of a 10-year study of trends in practices and behaviors that contribute to foodborne illness outbreaks at retail. As we outline below, the results are perhaps not surprising, but one of the key take-aways from this initial report is that the areas of focus are simple – temperature control and handwashing. So if you are not heavily focused on these two areas you should be. The 10-year study, begun in 2013 by FDA’s National Retail Food Team, is investigating the relationship between food safety management systems, certified food protection managers, and the occurrence of risk factors and food safety behaviors/practices commonly associated with foodborne illness in restaurants. With the goal of providing insights for restaurant management to address and reduce common unsafe behaviors/practices, FDA released its findings from the initial phase of the study earlier this month. This first phase, compiled in Report on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Fast Food and Full Service Restaurants, 2013-2014, will be used as a baseline to assess trends in the occurrence of risk factors during subsequent data collections in 2017 and 2021. Additional data collections in 2015, 2019, and 2023 investigate similar retail food safety research questions in institutional food service settings and retail food stores. As shown in the following table, the top non-compliant practices and behaviors (“primary data items”) tend to be the same at fast food and full-service restaurant, with temperature controls and employee handwashing topping both lists. As percentages of non-compliance decrease, non-compliance at the two types of restaurants show some differences. Out-of-compliance Practices/Behaviors As stated, while first guess would generally be that fast-food restaurants would have more food safety issues than full-service, the results proved a different reality, with full-service showing higher percentages of out-of-compliance issues in every category. That finding was reiterated in a compilation of the number out-of-compliance issues found at fast-food and full-service restaurants: Fast Food Restaurants Median number of primary data items out-of-compliance = 3 63% (269) had 3 or fewer primary data items out-of-compliance 8% (36) had no primary data items out-of-compliance 15% (63) had one primary data item out-of-compliance Full-service Restaurants Median number of primary data items out-of-compliance = 5 55% (217) had 5 or fewer primary data items out-of-compliance 2% (8) had no primary data items out-of-compliance 3% (13) had one primary data item out-of-compliance With a second objective of the study being that of determining the extent to which food safety management systems and the presence of a certified food protection manager impact the occurrence of food safety behaviors/practices, it was found that food safety management systems were the strongest predictor of food safety practices and behaviors being out-of-compliance in both fast food and full-service restaurants. Those with well-developed food safety management systems had significantly better food safety behavior/practice compliance. So the key point here is that food safety success is about management systems and not just protocols and certificates, although they are important too. This is seen in the study’s figures showing that Certified Food Protection Managers (CFPM) presence and oversight had a significant impact on non-compliant practices and behaviors: Overall, key findings of this initial report highlight the importance of food safety management systems and certified food protection managers and specific unsafe food behaviors/practices within fast food and full-service restaurants. FDA intends to continue to collect and use data and results from the study to aid decision makers in reducing the occurrence of risk factors responsible for causing foodborne illness. Another way to look at this is: Focus on the very important but simple things such as temperature control and handwashing, because you know the regulators will focus on these areas. So if you don’t, you will be in trouble. About The Acheson Group (TAG) Led by Former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson, TAG is a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience, TAG’s team of food safety experts help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance.  www.AchesonGroup.com