A study into the most common bacterial cause of diarrhoeal disease in the developed world, Campylobacter, has found that chef bad practices may also be to blame.
In a survey of more than 200 chefs conducted by the University of Liverpool, Bangor University and the University of Manchester, a third admitted to having worked in kitchens which served meat ‘on the turn’, while 16% had served barbeque chicken when not sure it was fully cooked.
Over 30% had worked in a kitchen within 48 hours of suffering from diarrhoea or vomiting, and 14% did not always wash their hands immediately after handling raw meat or fish.
Undercooked barbeque chicken is associated with Campylobacter, and in addition, chefs returning to work too soon after suffering from diarrhoea or vomiting have been implicated in high-profile food poisoning outbreaks.
The research found that avoiding eating where such behaviours take place is not easy for the public, because chefs working in award-winning kitchens were more likely to have returned to work within 48 hours of suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting, and not washing hands was more likely in upmarket establishments — despite over a third of the public agreeing that the more expensive a meal was, the safer they would expect it to be.
Chefs working in restaurants with a good Food Hygiene Rating Scheme score were just as likely to have committed the risky behaviours at some time in their career or to have worked with others who had.
As the behaviours involved were embarrassing or potentially incriminating to reveal, the researchers used something called the Randomised Response Technique (RRT) to cope with the fact that people might not want to reveal the truth about their ‘dark kitchen’ secrets.
This involved those surveyed rolling two dice in secret, and switching their answers (Yes to No; No to Yes) according to the values they rolled. The technique makes people more prepared to reveal the truth than just asking them directly, and the researchers were able to recover the true rates of the bad behaviours from the data.
Professor Dan Rigby from the University of Manchester, one of the lead authors of the study, said: “Foodborne illnesses impose a huge burden to the UK population, and these results indicate a high prevalence of behaviours which can give people food poisoning. Masking the smell and taste of meat on the turn is an old industry trick, and the ability to do it means restaurants can cut costs. Showing you can do it shows a potential employer you are experienced in the industry.”
Rigby said it was notable that chefs in fine dining establishments were more likely to have returned to work too soon after suffering diarrhoea and/or vomiting, contravening UK regulations. He said this may be down to a fear of losing a prestigious job, or a desire not to let the team down.
“Staff currently working in kitchens with higher prices, more awards or a good Food Hygiene Rating Scheme were no less likely to have committed the bad behaviours , or have worked with colleagues who had in the past — meaning that the public face a difficult challenge to protect themselves from these bad kitchen behaviours.”