Restaurants are important settings for foodborne disease outbreaks and consumers are increasingly using restaurant inspection results to guide decisions about where to eat. Although public posting of inspection results may lead to improved sanitary practices in the restaurant, the relationship between inspection results and risk of foodborne illness appears to be pathogen specific.
To further examine the relationship between inspection results and the risk of foodborne disease outbreaks, we evaluated results of routine inspections conducted in multiple restaurants in a chain (Chain A) that was associated with a large Salmonella outbreak in Illinois. Inspection results were collected from 106 Chain A establishments in eight counties. Forty-six outbreak-associated cases were linked to 23 of these Chain A restaurants. There were no significant differences between the outbreak and non-outbreak restaurants for overall demerit points or for the number of demerit points attributed to hand washing or cross-contamination. Our analyses strongly suggest that the outbreak resulted from consumption of a contaminated fresh produce item without further amplification within individual restaurants. Inspections at these facilities would be unlikely to detect or predict the foodborne illness outbreak because there are no Food Code items in place to stop the introduction of contaminated food from an otherwise approved commercial food source.
The results of our study suggest that the agent and food item pairing and route of transmission must be taken into consideration to improve our understanding of the relationship between inspection results and the risk of foodborne illness in restaurants.
Understanding the relationships between inspection results and risk of foodborne illness in restaurants
Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. September 2016, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/fpd.2016.2137.
Petrona Lee and Craig W. Hedberg