From households to hospitality, Purdue HHS researchers share food safety knowledge

Written By: Rebecca Hoffa,

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches … Foodborne illness can cause a slew of problems and misery.

To help prevent foodborne illness outbreaks across households and commercial organizations, faculty in Purdue University’s White Lodging-J.W. Marriott, Jr. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) provide all hospitality and tourism management students with food safety knowledge. They also align their research with the College of Health and Human Sciences’ Healthy Lifestyles and Vital Longevity and Sustainable and Thriving Organizations and Communities signature research areas to foster food safety and operations best practices.

“Food is integral to almost every hospitality business, so it’s important for all hospitality students to be knowledgeable about food safety — as well as it’s just an important life skill,” said Karen Byrd, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management and registered dietitian nutritionist.

Cardinal rules of food safety

Karen Byrd

Karen ByrdPhoto Provided

Karen Byrd brings years of real-world food safety experience in healthcare, senior living and restaurant foodservice to her role in the College of Health and Human Sciences. Whether in foodservice and hospitality organizations or consumers’ homes, Byrd noted the same general food safety rules apply, guided by the FDA, CDC and USDA.

“Washing your hands for 20 seconds before handling food is probably the most important thing you can do to minimize your food safety risk, which includes but is not limited to before eating your food and between handling different types of food,” Byrd explained.

Other important food safety rules that overlap across businesses and households include heating and cooling food to the appropriate temperatures by avoiding the food danger zone of 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit and separating raw foods from cooked foods to avoid cross contamination.

Businesses must also have at least one person who is food-safety certified in the operation at all times; have protocols in place for employees to report any illnesses that could be transmitted through foods; and offer consumer advisories if serving raw or undercooked foods, such as oysters or sunny-side up eggs.

Byrd also noted that consumers and businesses should stay up-to-date on food recalls and outbreaks on to avoid using products that may have been contaminated further up the food chain.

“If food contamination occurs at the field or processor level, there’s not a lot we can do except not use the product,” Byrd said. “So, from that perspective, consumers and food service businesses need to be aware of what’s being recalled so that they can discard the food. That’s really the only preventative measure they can take in this situation.”

Byrd’s research has taken on a new outlook with the increase of food delivery to understand how shipping foods in nontraditional ways, such as through the mail, may have an impact on food safety as the food supply chain continues to evolve.

An operational outlook

Carl Behnke

Carl BehnkePhoto Provided

Carl Behnke, associate professor of hospitality and tourism management, spent years as a chef and chef instructor before becoming a researcher in the College of Health and Human Sciences. He noted that he brings an operational perspective to food safety, combining his past experience in the kitchen with food safety applications. There are often little things he’s observed in homes that get overlooked, such as regularly putting the sponge used to wipe down counters in the dishwasher or avoiding cutting meat on wooden cutting boards that can absorb liquids and cross-contaminate.

In his desk, Behnke has a stack of newspaper clippings showing headlines where large restaurant chains, bakeries, local delis and even church dinners didn’t abide by food safety practices and suffered a variety of consequences because of it, from individuals getting severely ill from foodborne illnesses to bad press shutting down the operation.

“I bring these headlines into class all the time — or I used to when I taught that particular class — and basically I talk about the advertising that you don’t want to buy,” Behnke said. “That’s your headline on the front page of the newspaper and on every news channel out there. Do you really want that publicity?”

While Behnke said it’s important to be aware of what can happen if you don’t abide by food safety protocols, it’s also important for people to not be afraid of food but rather learn to respect it.

“It’s our obligation — it’s part of hospitality,” Behnke said. “We have an obligation to provide safe food, and if we violate that trust, who’s going to eat at our restaurant?”

For those who are interested in becoming food-safety certified, Purdue Health and Human Sciences Extension offers workshops to help individuals earn their ServSafe Certification.