K-State graduate student helping New Zealand with development of national restaurant inspection disclosure system — review paper published

This international research stuff can be challenging to co-ordinate. Not the supervision or the actual research, more getting all the various agencies, living arrangements and insurance lined up.

And I have to be more sensitive – I wanted to call this blog post, The shocking, untold, no-holds barred story of how Katie Filion went from Sault St. Marie, to Guelph, to Manhattan (Kansas) to New Zealand.

The Kansas State University press release that went out this morning said:

Katie Filion, a master’s student in biomedical science, has a thesis project with global implications. She is investigating New Zealand’s options for a national food business or restaurant hygiene grading system. She is working on the yearlong project with a $20,000 grant from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority.

Filion is doing her research in New Zealand and will return to K-State in May 2010 to complete her thesis with adviser Doug Powell, K-State associate professor of food safety.

New Zealand’s piecemeal use of grading systems means that it’s difficult for diners to check out an establishment’s food safety record. Filion said a consistent grading system throughout New Zealand will make consumers less confused and will bolster confidence in the country’s inspection systems. And with a population of about 4 million, New Zealand is an ideally sized country for such a project, Filion said.

"No one has determined the most effective way to present inspection results to the public but a good system has several characteristics," Filion said. "It should have clear guidelines about what earns a good or bad grade and should communicate to diners the risk of eating at a particular restaurant."

Here’s some more of the tale:

Katie left the Soo to do undergraduate research in food science at the University of Guelph. There, for reasons I’ve never fully understood, she and another friend started working for Chapman while he was finishing his PhD.

We met a couple of times, talked a couple of times, but Chapman said she was good and interested in restaurant inspection disclosure stuff – and graduate school – so I gave her some additional work. Then she graduated she spent eight months visiting farmers in Ontario as part of an on-farm food safety program.

Katie decided graduate school was next and I said, come to K-State. Meanwhile, while Amy and I were in New Zealand last summer (Kansas summer, not NZ summer) I worked out a possible arrangement – that Ben had initiated — for a grad student to work with NZFSA on restaurant inspection disclosure procedures.

She was supposed to go in Jan. 2009, but too many details needed to be filled in. Rather than facing winter in the Soo, Katie ventured to Kansas, and helped out around here for five months. She started contributing to barfblog and her writing got better.

In May, it was off to Wellington, NZ, and she seems to be doing great; even got a review paper published, which just came out.

The ways restaurant inspection disclosure systems reach consumers with food safety information was the topic of a review article that Filion and Powell published recently in the Journal of Foodservice. Because diners choose restaurants in part for their perception of the establishment’s hygiene, Filion and Powell suggest that restaurants would be wise to market themselves to potential customers in terms of their food safety inspection records.

Filion, K. and Powell, D.A. 2009. The use of restaurant inspection disclosure systems as a means of communicating food safety information. Journal of Foodservice 20: 287-297.

The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals in developed countries become ill from food or water each year. Up to 70% of these illnesses are estimated to be linked to food prepared at foodservice establishments. Consumer confidence in the safety of food prepared in restaurants is fragile, varying significantly from year to year, with many consumers attributing foodborne illness to foodservice. One of the key drivers of restaurant choice is consumer perception of the hygiene of a restaurant. Restaurant hygiene information is something consumers desire, and when available, may use to make dining decisions.