June 19, 2018

Sick Food Workers are Recipe for an Outbreak

A study published in the Journal of Food Protection looked at food worker experiences with and beliefs about working while ill. Sick food workers are an important cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in the U.S. The FDA recommends that anyone who is suffering from vomiting or diarrhea be excluded from work.

Restaurant blurry interiorThe study interviewed 491 food workers from 391 randomly selected restaurants in nine states that participated in the Environmental Health Specialists Network of the CDC. The results are startling: almost 60% of workers went to work while they were ill. And 20% worked while they were ill with vomiting or diarrhea. The factors that kept them at work were concerns about job loss, leaving coworkers short staffed, and job responsibilities.

The Minnesota Health Department has concluded that sick workers were the cause of more than 72% of norovirus outbreaks every year. Kirk Smith, head of the state Health Department’s foodborne disease investigation unit told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that sick food workers “is one of the biggest problems in food safety, and arguably the biggest.”

Many states have laws in place to prevent sick employees from working with food. But policies at the restaurant level are not adequate. Many workers don’t even know about those laws. Management is responsible for implementing the policies, but workers must tell management when they are sick.

A study conducted by the CDC found that sick food handlers specifically caused 53% of foodborne norovirus outbreaks by contaminating food, and “may have contributed to another 29% of theĀ outbreaks.” Another CDC study found that males, those who fear losing their jobs if they don’t show up, and those with 2 or more years of experience were more likely to say they worked while they were sick.

Public health officials stress that food workers should not work when they are sick. Restaurants need specific policies put in place and they should be communicated to management and staff.

Comments

  1. This is why I dont eat out any more, All the storied I hear about people getting sick from eating out! Something needs to be done!

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