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The price of food safety

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

The safety of the nation’s food supply has been an increasingly hot topic in recent years, and one that heats up further each time there’s an outbreak of E.coli, salmonella or another food-borne illness. Last year, researchers found that U.S. consumers are willing to pay more to increase their chances of avoiding getting sick, Occupational Health & Safety reported.

While it may seem like the ability to stave off a bad case of food poisoning might just be something most consumers consider priceless, the study actually found that consumers would be willing to pay about $1 more per person annually in exchange for a 10% decrease in the likelihood that the burger they buy in the grocery store and cook at home will make them sick, said co-author and Ohio State University professor Brian Roe. Unlike Department of Agriculture estimates that seek to calculate the total cost of getting sick from pathogens in food, the study sought to determine how much more people would pay for meat that’s treated and perceived as safer.

“We think what we are measuring is more realistic, as complete eradication is a highly unlikely outcome for any policy,” Roe said in the article. “We also are quite certain that our estimates of consumers’ willingness to pay would be higher than what the USDA would calculate using its cost-of-illness approach.”

Food safety is an issue that increasingly comes up in conversations with politicians, and last week Barack Obama and Mitt Romney issued responses to questions on the topic from the United Fresh Produce Association, as published in Food Safety News. As might be expected, the Obama administration touted its accomplishments, including the creation of the Food Safety Working Group and the signing of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The Romney campaign’s response says the candidate would rely heavily on FDA collaboration with producers to implement best practices for preventing food-borne illness.

The article isn’t just timely because of the pending election. September is National Food Safety Month, and to celebrate its 18th year, the National Restaurant Association this year has coined the theme, “Be Safe, Don’t Cross-Contaminate.” Along those lines, a story in Entrepreneur last week on tech tools likely to revolutionize the restaurant industry includes webcam-enabled monitoring from a company called Sealed Air that’s designed to detect non-compliance with proper hand-washing techniques and other food-safety practices.

The system costs about $300 to $500 per month, and equips workers with badges with radio frequency transmitters that send an alert each time a worker approaches a hand-washing station. The system then tracks how long each person spends washing and whether they use soap and/or sanitizer.

Has your restaurant invested more in food-safety education, tools or practices in the past year? Tell us about it in the comments.