Observational studies in pre-harvest food safety may be useful for identifying risk factors and for evaluating potential mitigation strategies to reduce foodborne pathogens. However, there are no structured reporting guidelines for these types of study designs in livestock species. Our objective was to evaluate the reporting of observational studies in the pre-harvest food safety literature using guidelines modified from the human healthcare literature. We identified 100 pre-harvest food safety studies published between 1999 and 2009. Each study was evaluated independently by two reviewers using a structured checklist. Of the 38 studies that explicitly stated the observational study design, 27 were described as cross-sectional studies, eight as case-control studies, and three as cohort studies. Study features reported in over 75% of the selected studies included: description of the geographic location of the studies, definitions and sources of data for outcomes, organizational level and source of data for independent variables, description of statistical methods and results, number of herds enrolled in the study and included in the analysis, and sources of study funding. However, other features were not consistently reported, including details related to eligibility criteria for groups (such as barn, room, or pen) and individuals, numbers of groups and individuals included in various stages of the study, identification of primary outcomes, the distinction between putative risk factors and confounding variables, the identification of a primary exposure variable, the referent level for evaluation of categorical variable associations, methods of controlling confounding variables and missing variables, model fit, details of subset analysis, demographic information at the sampling unit level, and generalizability of the study results. Improvement in reporting of observational studies of pre-harvest food safety will aid research readers and reviewers in interpreting and evaluating the results of such studies.
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