Food employee contamination of ready-to-eat foods through improper food handling practices is an important contributing factor for foodborne illness in retail and food service establishments. Decreasing the incidence of improper food handling practices is a frequent topic of retail food policy deliberations that often involves estimating the degree to which a proposed policy might affect a specific food handling practice. However, the potential reduction in contaminated servings of food, and therefore foodborne illnesses avoided, associated with a given proposed policy change, is all too often uncertain. This article discusses the components, assumptions, and applications of the food handling practices model, a quantitative model that estimates the impact of food handling practices on servings of food moving along three consecutive stages: the contamination stage, the pathogen control stage, and the foodborne illness stage. To our knowledge, this article is the first time the model has been presented in an academic platform, and we also explore unique and interesting aspects of the model not addressed in publicly available documents. Risk-based estimates for contaminated servings of food attributed to changes in one or multiple food handling practices are derived that provide an important link between increased compliance with proper food handling practices and public health. Model estimates show that decreases in the incidence of inappropriate food handling practices lead to varying levels of contaminated food servings avoided, depending on the food handling practice. The ability to derive such estimates provides stakeholders and the general public with a means of understanding the relative impact of proposals to reduce improper food handling and to help inform regulatory food safety policy discussions and decision making.
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