March 20, 2018

What Causes Restaurant Outbreaks? Sick Employees.

A study published in the Journal of Food Protection looked at restaurant outbreaks in the United States and what the cases of these illnesses are. More than half of all foodborne illness outbreaks reported every year in this country are associated with eating in restaurants. Scientists studied the restaurant outbreaks in the United States during the years 2006 and 2007 as reported to FoodNet (Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network).

Restaurant KitchenOf the 457 outbreaks reported in 2006 and 2007, 300, or 66%, were restaurant associated. Of those, 98%, or 295, had at least one reported contributing factor, that is, a food safety violation that may have contributed to the outbreak. Of the 257 outbreaks with one single contributing factor, 64% were associated with food worker health and hygiene. Thirty-four percent were associated with food preparation practices, and 22% were associated with food that was contaminated before it even reached the establishment.

The study states, “the pronounced role of food workers in propagating outbreaks makes it clear that more work is needed to address prevention at the local level. Food workers should be instructed not to prepare food while ill to prevent the risk of transmitting pathogens.”

Food Poisoning Bulletin has reported on 15 restaurant-associated outbreaks in just the last two months. The outbreaks range from a Salmonella outbreak linked to the Casa Mexicana restaurant in Kentucky to the huge Cyclospora outbreak in Iowa, Texas, and Nebraska, to the Jimmy John’s E. coli outbreak in Colorado. Customers have been exposed to hepatitis A at five separate restaurants since August 2013.

We’ve also told you about problems with the pay scale and lack of sick leave in the food service industry. In fact, in June 2013, the state of Florida passed a bill prohibiting required paid employee sick leave. And last year, a survey found that most food workers are underpaid and work while they are sick; in fact, only 13.0% percent of food service workers earn a livable wage. So who is going to fix the problem?

The fix may have to come at the legislative level, but there isn’t much hope of that happening. Elected officials need the political will to pass laws that will actually improve American lives.

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