By Dan Richen
I attended the lecture on “Predicting Foodborne Outbreaks at Restaurants: Results of a Risk Assessment Model” presented by Heidi Sato. This was a VERY popular presentation as they brought in a lot more chairs and there were still more people standing in the hall outside the room. Heidi presented the results of a research project she conducted with the LA County Health Department that involved reviewing violations observed in restaurants that were involved in foodborne illness outbreaks, and then comparing risk factors between those restaurants and selected restaurants that were NOT associated with outbreaks (Case – Control). Normally a review of Odds Ratios, Confidence Intervals and Statistical Significance would be pretty dry, but the subject matter was obviously of great interest to those in attendance. While standard factors of food safety (type of foods served, extent of preparation, etc.) showed up as predictors, some other – more unusual - factors seemed to play a greater role in outbreaks. Factors like Ownership Type (Corporate versus Franchise versus Private), Entrée Price and Number of Customers seemed to be better predictors of outbreaks than the food safety issues. Using structured equation modeling, Heidi found that the factors of Number of Customers (0.33), Critical Violations During Inspections (0.21) and Use of Raw Foods (0.15) were the strongest predictors of involvement in a foodborne illness outbreak. There were quite a few questions at the conclusion of the presentation, as it seemed that people were trying to relate the information with their own experiences. As with most research, the statistical details of this presentation will need to be interpreted so as to be useful in the field – there was a lot of information to digest and a lot of work will be needed to determine how it can be integrated into our daily activities and programs. A very interesting presentation.