Safety standards for restaurants throughout the country lag behind federal guidelines for protecting customers against food poisoning, a consumer group asserted Wednesday.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest surveyed 45 state and local agencies in charge of restaurant inspections, comparing regulations for such things as recommended cooking temperatures for meat with the 1995 Food Code issued by the Food and Drug Administration.
Though the federal government cannot regulate the nation’s 773,000 restaurants, the code gives the government’s most up-to-date standards on how to keep food free of harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli O157:H7.
An executive of the National Restaurant Association said many problems outlined in the report were already being addressed and the guidelines cited in the report were being revised to correct flaws.
Food safety officials in Dallas, San Francisco and other cities that were singled out for criticism said the report gave an incomplete picture and some wrong information.
“There was not one statistic on these jurisdictions as to what their foodborne illness rates were or attack rates,” said Ben Gale, director of San Francisco’s Bureau of Environmental Health. “San Francisco’s is extremely low.”
And Beverly Weaver, director of Environmental and Health services for the city of Dallas, protested, “We are one of the few cities throughout the United Sates that require food service manager certification.”
She did acknowledge that the local minimum required temperature for cooking hamburgers is 140 degrees, far below government recommendations for killing bacteria and also below what the restaurant association considers adequate.
The board of the national association in May urged its state and local members to support adoption of the national code but with revisions agreed upon by the industry, the Agriculture Department, national food and drug officials and others.