Online Program

A qualitative investigation of the role of food workers in US food safety

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 3:10 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Megan Clayton, PhD, MPH, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
U.S. food workers represent a structurally vulnerable population that experiences poor wages and working conditions. Food workers’ poor health and hygiene practices are also commonly implicated in outbreaks of foodborne illness. Under these current food work and food safety circumstances, the health and safety of food workers and consumers is put at significant risk.

To begin addressing these issues, it is critical to understand how the U.S. food safety system accounts for workers in food contamination and safety. Using content analysis and in-depth interviews, this qualitative study fills this gap by investigating the role of workers in regulations implementing the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act—unprecedented federal action to prevent foodborne disease—and as perceived by workers in the context of their everyday lives and work experiences.

Findings reveal that proposed regulations primarily treat contamination by workers as an individual-level problem, including from workers’ lack of knowledge and need for training. With few exceptions, broader social/structural factors shaping workers’ health and hygiene are overlooked, and workers are excluded from the food safety process. These legal constructions contrast with workers’ identification of a range of factors, at multiple levels, impacting proper food safety practice, including issues related to low pay and lack of benefits, community resources, and poor economic conditions. Study results may begin to change the food work and safety conversation by connecting the impact of macrosocial inequality on workers to safe food and public health.

Learning Areas:

Occupational health and safety
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines

Learning Objectives:
Describe how food workers are legally defined as hazards to and responsible for ensuring safe food in the U.S.; Compare legal constructions of workers’ role in food safety to theoretical and worker-based perceptions of factors that impact proper food safety practice.

Keyword(s): Food Security, Labor

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have conducted years of research in this area, including the completion of my doctoral dissertation on food workers and food safety.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.