Assessment of Risk Communication about Undercooked Hamburgers by Restaurant Servers
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2013 Model Food Code, it is the duty of a food establishment to disclose and remind consumers of risk when ordering undercooked food such as ground beef. The purpose of this study was to explore actual risk communication behaviors of food establishment servers. Secret shoppers visited 265 restaurants in seven geographic locations across the United States, ordered medium rare burgers, and collected and coded risk information from chain and independent restaurant menus and from server responses. The majority of servers reported an unreliable method of doneness (77%) or other incorrect information (66%) related to burger doneness and safety. These results indicate major gaps in server knowledge and risk communication, and the current risk communication language in the Model Food Code does not sufficiently fill these gaps. The question is "should servers even be acting as risk communicators?" There are numerous challenges associated with this practice, including high turnover rates, limited education, and the high stress environment based on pleasing a customer. If servers are designated as risk communicators, food establishment staff should be adequately trained and provided with consumer advisory messages that are accurate, audience appropriate, and delivered in a professional manner so that customers can make informed food safety decisions.