Top FDA Violations in Fast Food and Full Service Restaurants
Written by Cindy Rice, RS, CP-FS, MSPH Eastern Food Safety
How does your food establishment measure up against others in the country, in terms of food safety practices? And what factors have the most impact on employees complying with good behaviors?
According to FDA’s latest research, food handling and preparation activities are the still the most common contributors to restaurant-associated outbreaks. Here are the Top 10 Violations found in 821 restaurants (425 Fast food and 396 Full-service) during a 10-year study period, along with the percentage of restaurants found to be OUT of Compliance for 10 inspection items.*
Violation 1: Cold TCS Foods Not Being Held at Proper Temperature
76% Out of Compliance
Cold holding violations were the most common seen by FDA inspectors, out of the 10 inspection items. Over 3/4 of restaurants had TCS (Time and Temperature Control for Safety) foods being held at improper temperatures (between 41˚F and 135˚F) a leading risk factor of foodborne illness outbreaks. Temperature abuse encourages bacterial growth, and can easily occur during the preparation period if foods are neglected or excessive volumes of food are pulled out of the cooler in anticipation of being worked on. Also, refrigerators often struggle to hold TCS foods at 41˚ or below during storage, if we are not careful.
Violation 2: Inadequate Handwashing
74% Out of Compliance
Poor personal hygiene continues to be a common risk factor in food establishments, and improper handwashing was the second most common violation in this study. Frequent and effective handwashing is critical to remove pathogens from our hands throughout the workday, to prevent cross-contamination of harmful bacteria and substances to foods, equipment and utensils
Violation 3: Foods Not Cooled Properly
60% Out of Compliance
Improper cooling of TCS foods has traditionally been a leading risk factor for foodborne illness, and was the third most common violation in this restaurant study. Cooking foods only destroys pathogens to safe levels before eating. Some bacteria will survive the cooking process and can multiply to dangerous levels if foods are not cooled properly. Bacteria such as Clostridium perfringens or Bacillus cereus will additionally make toxins that are not destroyed during reheating, another risk to illness.
Violation 4: Food Not Protected From Contamination During Storage, Preparation and Display
51% Out of Compliance
Inspectors found 51% of restaurants were OUT of compliance for protecting foods from contamination during storage, preparation process or display. These include instances of raw animal foods stored in close proximity or prepared on same equipment as ready-to-eat foods (a serious risk of pathogen contamination,) foods contacting soiled equipment or utensils, and exposing foods to chemicals or other environmental hazards during preparation, storage or display.
Violation 5: Food Contact Surfaces Improperly Cleaned and Sanitized
51% Out of Compliance
More than half of food establishments were OUT of compliance for this item too, with food contact surfaces, equipment and utensils improperly cleaned and sanitized before use. These situations are food contamination risks, and employees should practice proper methods for washing, rinsing and sanitizing food contact surfaces.
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*FDA’s 10 year (2013-2024) Retail Risk Factor Study of 821 restaurants. For more information on the FDA Report on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Fast Food and Full-Service Restaurants visit www.fda.gov/food/retail-food-protection/retail-food-risk-factor-study