The Role of Food Workers in Food Safety: A Policy Analysis of the U.S.
Foodborne disease is a significant problem in the United States and around the world. Though research identifies diverse factors associated with foodborne outbreaks, one of the most common is poor worker health and improper hygiene practice. Research on social determinants of health indicates that living and working conditions play a role in shaping these risks. To start addressing these issues, we must first understand how we currently account for the role of workers in food safety. This qualitative study describes the role of workers in the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) proposed regulations to implement the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, an unprecedented federal action to improve food safety. The analysis is guided by fundamental causes of disease theory, which provides a useful framework for exploring regulations within the context of the socio-structural factors that impact health and hygiene behavior. Findings reveal that proposed regulations primarily treat contamination by workers as an individual-level problem, including the result of workers' lack of food safety knowledge and need for education and training. With few exceptions, broader social and structural factors shaping workers' health and hygiene are overlooked. Study results may begin to change the food safety conversation by connecting the impact of macrosocial inequality on food workers to food safety and public health.