T6-02 Risk Communication When Ordering Undercooked Hamburgers at Restaurants

Tuesday, August 5, 2014: 8:45 AM
Room 203-204 (Indiana Convention Center)
Ellen Thomas, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Benjamin Chapman, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Introduction: Ground beef has been associated with Escherichia coli O157:H7 and other STECs. As a mitigation step, as cook time of burgers increases, log reduction of harmful bacteria that may be present in ground beef decreases. The U.S. FDA 2009 Food Code states that it is the duty of the restaurant to disclose and remind consumers of risk when ordering undercooked meat products such as ground beef.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine whether the process of disclosure and reminder is actually occurring in chain and independent restaurants that serve hamburgers and to describe it.

Methods:   Secret shoppers were recruited and trained on the protocol of hamburger ordering and asking questions about burger doneness and safety. Secret shoppers visited restaurants in several geographic locations throughout the United States, ordered medium rare burgers, and collected risk information on server responses to questions relating to measuring doneness and safety (n = 139). Risk information provided to patrons on restaurant menus was also collected. Codes were developed to characterize server responses based on methods of doneness, and to classify whether safety information and incorrect information were provided.

Results: When secret shoppers engaged with the target population, 81% of servers overall referred to an unreliable method of determining doneness. Fifty-one percent of chain restaurant servers and forty percent of independent restaurant servers provided some sort of safety information; however, 57% of independent restaurant servers and 60% of chain restaurant servers provided incorrect information. 

Significance: The majority of servers indicated an unreliable method of doneness or other incorrect information related to burger doneness and safety; these results indicate major gaps in server risk communication. These gaps suggest the need for a food safety curriculum specifically aimed towards servers, with the ultimate goal of improving risk messages to consumers.