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The 13 Most Common Risk Factors for Foodborne Illness in Utah

In 2017, the Utah Department of Health released an analysis of health inspection data from seven health departments across the state. The participating health departments cover about 85% of Utah’s total population.

The state study looked at common violations marked during inspections in 2016. The inspections took place at all different types of food establishments, including grocery stores, convenience stores, quick-service restaurants, and full-service restaurants.

Risk factors by establishment type

As part of the study, Utah Department of Health separated the establishments visited into categories:

  • Category 1 represents establishments that typically serve pre-packaged food or reheated food, like convenience stores and coffee shops.
  • Category 2 establishments, such as grocery stores and quick-service restaurants, typically prepare food with a limited menu.
  • Category 3 includes full-service restaurants that have extensive menu options and handle more raw ingredients.
  • Category 4 establishments serve highly susceptible populations. Examples include preschools, hospital cafeterias, and nursing homes.

Next, researchers analyzed violations found at establishments in each category. When possible, they tied each violation to one of the five top risk factors for foodborne illness identified by the CDC in 2000.

The 10 most common violations that corresponded to a CDC risk factor were:

Category 1 (convenience stores, coffee shops, etc.)
Category 2 (grocery stores, quick-service restaurants, etc.)
Category 3 (full-service restaurants)
Category 4 (preschools, hospital cafeterias, etc.)
1
Clean, sanitized food-contact surfaces
Clean, sanitized food-contact surfaces
Clean, sanitized food-contact surfaces
Clean, sanitized food-contact surfaces
2
Available handwashing supplies
Available handwashing supplies
Proper cold-holding
Available handwashing supplies
3
Proper handwashing
Correct equipment storage
Available handwashing supplies
Handling chemicals safely
4
Eating, drinking, and smoking safely
Eating, drinking, and smoking safely
Eating, drinking, and smoking safely
Eating, drinking, and smoking safely
5
Handling chemicals safely
Handling chemicals safely
Correct equipment storage
Correct equipment storage
6
Correct cooking/serving utensil storage
Proper cold-holding
Correct cooking/serving utensil storage
Proper cold-holding
7
Proper cold-holding
Correct cooking/serving utensil storage
Correct food storage
Correct food storage
8
Correct equipment storage
Proper handwashing
Handling chemicals safely
Correct single-use item storage
9
Available seafood records
Correct food storage
Proper handwashing
Proper hot-holding
10
Proper hot-holding
Proper hot-holding
Available seafood records
Food in good condition

Source: Utah Risk Factor Study For Inspections Conducted in 2016 Analysis Conducted in 2017. Note: Utah’s inspection form is based on the 2013 FDA Food Code.

Top 13 risk factors for foodborne illness in Utah

Now that you know which risk factor-related violations Utah health inspectors reported the most, let’s take a closer look at each one.

1. Clean, sanitized food-contact surfaces

  • The most common violation for all establishment categories
  • Item #16 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: contaminated equipment

How to prevent this violation

To avoid this violation, keep your utensils and equipment clean. Make sure chemical sanitizers are mixed to the correct concentration and dishwasher water is hot enough to kill pathogens. Finally, if equipment or utensils are used for a major food allergen, teach employees to clean and sanitize them before reusing them for other foods.

2. Available handwashing supplies

  • One of the top 3 most common violations for all establishment categories
  • Item #10 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: poor personal hygiene

How to prevent this violation

Make sure your handwashing sinks and bathroom sinks aren’t blocked or filled with dirty dishes. Keep them well-stocked with soap and disposable paper towels or a working air dryer. Put signage at each sink reminding employees to wash their hands.

3. Proper cold-holding

  • One of the top 10 most common violations for all establishment categories
  • Item #22 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: improper holding temperatures

How to prevent this violation

Teach your staff to regularly check the temperature of cold-held food with a thermometer instead of relying wholly on built-in thermometers. Cold-held food should never be above 41°F.

4. Proper handwashing

  • One of the top 10 most common violations for establishments in category 1–3
  • Item #8 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: poor personal hygiene

How to prevent this violation

Teach your employees how and when to wash their hands. Follow up with them regularly to make sure they’re doing it.

5. Eating, drinking, and smoking safely

  • The fourth most common violation for all establishment categories
  • Item #6 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: poor personal hygiene

How to prevent this violation

If your cooking staff tastes food, make sure they know how to do it safely. For instance, they should never reuse a utensil for tasting. Also, show your employees where they can safely eat, drink, and smoke without contaminating food or equipment.

6. Handling chemicals safely

  • One of the top 10 most common violations for all establishment categories
  • Item #28 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: contaminated equipment

How to prevent this violation

You can avoid this violation by making sure chemical sanitizers are mixed to the correct concentrations. Remind employees to always label sanitizers and to store them separately from food and equipment.

7. Correct equipment storage

  • One of the top 10 most common violations for all establishment categories
  • Item #44 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: contaminated equipment

How to prevent this violation

Make sure you store utensils, equipment, and linens in a clean, dry place. Linens should be stored dry; utensils and equipment should be stored in a way that allows them to air dry. They should also be covered or inverted to protect them from contamination. Utensils that aren’t wrapped should be stored with the handles up so that employees and/or customers only touch the handles.

8. Correct cooking/serving utensil storage

  • One of the top 10 most common violations for establishments in category 1-3
  • Item #43 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: contaminated equipment

How to prevent this violation

Always make sure serving utensils are stored with the handles up above the top of food. You can set cooking utensils down on a clean food-contact surface, put them in running water, or store them in a container of water — as long as the water is kept at 135°F.

9. Available seafood records

  • One of the top 10 most common violations for category 1 and 3 establishments
  • Item #14 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: unsafe sources

How to prevent this violation

To prevent this violation, keep the shellstock tags and freeze records for fish and other seafood. Keep the records for at least 90 days after selling or serving the seafood.

10. Proper hot-holding

  • One of the top 10 most common violations for establishments in category 1, 2, and 4
  • Item #21 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: improper holding temperatures

How to prevent this violation

Make sure your employees regularly check the temperature of hot-held food with a thermometer. Don’t rely completely on built-in thermometers. Hot-held food should never fall below 135°F.

11. Correct food storage

  • One of the top 10 most common violations for establishments in category 2, 3, and 4
  • Item #15 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: contaminated equipment

How to prevent this violation

Remind your employees how to store food to prevent cross-contamination. For instance, raw animal products like meat should be kept separate from ready-to-eat foods. Each food item should be in a covered container and arranged by cooking temperature. Also keep raw foods away from ready-to-eat foods during preparation.

12. Correct single-use item storage

  • The eighth most common violation for category 4 establishments
  • Item #45 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: contaminated equipment

How to prevent this violation

To prevent this violation, make sure single-use items are stored in a clean, dry place at least 6 inches above the floor. Don’t store them anywhere they could become contaminated, including utility rooms and bathrooms. Finally, never reuse single-use utensils!

13. Food in good condition

  • The tenth most common violation for category 4 establishments
  • Item #13 on Utah’s inspection form
  • Corresponding risk factor: unsafe sources

How to prevent this violation

Teach your employees to inspect food packaging carefully before using it. They should know when a food item is safe to use and when it isn’t. For example, if a canned food item is dented or bulging, it could contain botulism and you should throw it away.

Utah’s inspection form is based on the 2013 FDA Food Code. If you have any questions or want more information about a particular violation, see Guide 3-B, Instructions for Marking the Food Establishment Inspection Report, in the code.

Food safety training resources for your team

In Utah, food handlers are required to maintain a valid food handlers permit. The permit training covers most of the risk factors you just read about. However, it doesn’t cover everything, and over time your employees could forget some of the things they learned. That’s why it’s important to provide continual learning opportunities for your team.

These opportunities could take many forms. For example, you could put up posters like the Refrigerator Storage Chart, Use Chemicals Safely poster, or Steps of Handwashing poster.

You might also take advantage of pre-shift meetings to share a short message. StateFoodSafety has developed stand-up training guides about various topics that you’re welcome to use.

Learning opportunities don’t always have to be about teaching information, either — they could simply be opportunities for employees to practice what they learn. For instance, if you use cold-holding or hot-holding equipment in your establishment, consider implementing a new policy that employees must fill out a holding temperature log during each shift.

As you work to prevent these common food code violations in your establishment, remember that each effort helps reduce the chance that your food will make someone sick. When it comes to food safety, no work is wasted!

— Jessica Pettit

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