Secret cameras record risky restaurant behavior

By Sheryl Kay • Published: September 24th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Sometimes the only way to see behind a closed door is to actually be behind that door.

To monitor risky health practices in restaurants where the kitchen is typically off-limits to the public, researchers at North Carolina State University did just that. They planted hidden video cameras to clandestinely observe employees. And the findings were most unappetizing.

Published in the Journal of Food Protection, the study took place in eight food-service kitchens that volunteered to participate. Up to eight cameras were placed in each kitchen, which then recorded footage directly to computers. Those images were later reviewed by the researchers.

Issue number one? Cross-contamination, which occurs when pathogens, such as Salmonella, are transferred from a raw or tainted source to food that is ready to eat. This might happen, for example, if someone uses a knife to cut raw meat containing Salmonella, and then uses it to slice an apple that is then eaten uncooked. Researchers found approximately one cross-contamination event per food handler per hour, or eight cross-contamination errors every eight-hour shift.

The study also verified the long-held theory that more food-safety mistakes happen when a kitchen gets busier. Videos exposed more incidents of cross-contamination and fewer workers abiding by hand-washing rules.

Researchers say improving food safety can be as simple as posting informational sheets that stress safety measures in highly visible areas of the kitchen. Making safety a team effort also helps. Adding these and other simple steps to the management menu can make the restaurant experience a whole lot more appetizing… and safer… for cooks and their customers.