May 21, 2024

Restaurant Outbreaks: Not the Fault of Workers

The history of food safety, corporate irresponsibility, and workers’ rights is long and tortuous (as well as tortious). From the days of Upton Sinclair (rotten and diseased meat), unpasteurized and tuberculosis-laden milk, all the way through the present, the dangers of unsafe food have been compounded by improperly trained and poorly paid food workers.

Restaurant ChefIn fact, during my career as a food safety lawyer on behalf of people harmed by contaminated food, I can honestly say that only a few cases did not involve food workers who were insufficiently trained, poorly paid or both.

That’s particularly true in the restaurant industry, especially in fast food restaurants. Employees of those establishments who are paid poorly, have few benefits and no pensions are time and time again implicated in foodborne illness outbreaks. That happens because if you are a marginalized worker, you do not have the luxury that most of take for granted: paid sick time or a livable wage sufficient to accrue the financial cushion on which most of us depend.

I am reminded of this financial reality by a recent newspaper article concerning a protest to demand higher wages and sick leave for all employees. This paragraph from the article, exemplifies the problem:

“Guillermo Lindsay, the night manager at McDonald’s Midway restaurant, said he was recently forced to come to work with the stomach flu because managers didn’t answer their phones when he called four times to alert them that he was ill. “If I didn’t come in, I would have gotten written up, suspended or fired. Instead I came in and then two other workers got sick.”

The problem is not stupid, lazy, inconsiderate workers; it’s a system that under-values human dignity and public safety. If you want food safety, you have to pay for it. It’s really that simple.

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