Posting graphical, concise food safety information sheets in the kitchens of restaurants can help reduce dangerous food safety practices and create a workplace culture that values safe food, according to a new paper co-authored by Kansas State University’s Doug Powell.
The study, "Assessment of food safety practices of food service food handlers: testing a communication intervention," was published in the June issue of the Journal of Food Protection. It was authored by Ben Chapman, assistant professor of food safety at the North Carolina State University; Powell, associate professor of food safety at K-State; Katie Filion, master’s student in biomedical science at K-State; and Tiffany Eversley and Tanya MacLaurin of the University of Guelph in Canada.
It’s the first time that a communication intervention using food safety info sheets has been validated to work, Powell said.
Powell and Chapman came up with the idea for food safety info sheets to promote discussion and improve food safety behaviors while playing hockey at the University of Guelph in 2003. Chapman was a graduate student at the time.
"Chapman and I played hockey a lot, and there was a bar and restaurant that overlooked the one ice surface where we often had after-hockey food safety meetings with our industry, provincial and federal government colleagues," Powell said. "We had all this food safety information, and the manager of the restaurant was into food safety, so we thought that if daily sports pages are posted on the walls and doors of washroom stalls, why not post engaging food safety information in kitchens for restaurant employees to read."
As part of his doctoral research, Chapman partnered with a food service company in Canada and placed small video cameras in unobtrusive spots around eight food-service kitchens that volunteered to participate in the study. There were as many as eight cameras in each kitchen, which recorded directly to computer files that were reviewed by Chapman and others.
The work built on other direct food safety observational studies conducted at K-State and published in the British Food Journal in 2009.
Food safety info sheets, highlighting the importance of hand washing or preventing cross-contamination, for example, were then introduced into the kitchens, and video was again collected. The researchers found that cross-contamination events decreased by 20 percent, and hand-washing attempts increased by 7 percent.
The increases show the information sheets work, Powell said. "Food safety messages like ‘Employees must wash hands’ signs in bathrooms just don’t work," he said.
Since September 2006 more than 150 food safety info sheets have been produced and are available for anyone to use, http://www.foodsafetyinfosheets.com. The website has a search function and offers automatic email alerts and RSS feeds.
K-State’s Filion coded much of the video as an undergraduate student researcher in Canada. MacLaurin, who collaborated on the research, was born on a farm/ranch in Kansas and received all her degrees from K-State before joining the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Guelph in 1991, where she subsequently collaborated with Powell.
The paper and study abstract are available at: