The CDC reports that over 3000 people die each year in America from food borne illness. That is an average of 8 people a DAY. An estimated 128,000 people are hospitalized each year. That is an average of 350 people a DAY.
Unfortunately, many restaurant food handlers are not following best food safety practices. As a result, according to the CDC 48% of food borne illness is traced to restaurants.
What are the social implications of food borne illness for a restaurant and how does it impact on the restaurant survival?
In the 1993 Jack in the Box food borne illness epidemic, insurers paid out over $98 million. The largest payout was $15.6 million for one case. In the last several years there have been many class actions complaints representing hundreds of people with suits in the tens of thousands per case. While each complaint may vary, it is often alleged that:
The restaurant had a duty to comply with all … safety codes … had a duty to properly supervise, train, and monitor its employees, … had a duty to use ingredients…that were safe, … clean, free from adulteration, but failed to do so and was therefore negligent
Unfortunately reputations of good restaurants are ruined.
Experts estimate that the cost to the United States in medical bills, lost work productivity and illness related mortality from food borne illness is $77 Billion per year!
That’s a number that is so big we need to put it into perspective. It is $248 for every man, woman and child in America. The cost of food borne illness approximates the cost of influenza epidemics. And it is 5 times what we spend in medical costs for asthma.
An estimated 128,000 people are hospitalized from food borne illness each year. It accounts for about 10% of all hospitalizations for infectious Illnesses of ANY kind. Think of the lost productivity and increase in business insurance premiums. It is hard to appreciate the human suffering and loss of productivity. Numbers are sterile. Comparisons and real life stories reveal the suffering and pain.
A pharmacist got hepatitis from bad potato salad served at his country club. His son says, “If only the cook had washed his hands”.
Arlene, a 63 year-old grandmother, spent three days in the hospital and now has persistent inflammation. “The food poisoning has changed my life... My life now revolves around my bowel movements.”
Three thousand die from food borne illness each year. It may not seem like a lot until we compare. There were 401 worldwide deaths from commercial or charter plane crashes in 2011. There were 3532 American deaths as casualties of war in the Iraq war. According to the CDC, you were more likely to die from food borne illness than many other Illnesses including: cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, malnutrition, meningitis, influenza, or complications of medical surgical care. Attention getting isn’t it.
I can’t imagine the horror and anger that one must feel losing a child, family or dear friend to food borne illness, particularly if it were from a restaurant. The scars could last a lifetime. The doubts, blame and shame could destroy the rest of the family. The tremendous guilt a restaurant owner or a corporate quality officer shoulders could be life changing.
Food borne illness affects young and old, rich and poor It is not fair. And tragically 48% of the time it is traced to restaurants.
The public deserves better food handling and cleaner restaurants.
Read the entire article published in FoodSafetyMagazine.com
Harlan Stueven MD