“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world” Nelson Mandela
Unfortunately there are people who suffer and die from food borne illness.
The CDC reports that, an average of 8 people a DAY and an average of 350 people a DAY.
According to the CDC at least 48% of food borne illness is traced to restaurants. In a 2014 report the number is even higher.
It is not for lack of science that the problem continues. Food safety experts know which viruses and bacteria cause disease. They know how to best store, transport, prepare and serve foods. That science is periodically reviewed by hundreds of experts and is at the core of our FDA food code. The code has been condensed to 54 establishment inspection items. Almost every state has patterned its food code after that national standard.
It is not for lack of available knowledge that the problem continues. There are excellent courses in food safety for owners, managers and food handlers. Most states require that at least one food handler be certified through an extensive food safety course and be on site at all times. There are convenient, excellent and inexpensive courses available through the National Restaurant Association and other organizations. DiningGrades.com offers FREE Food Servers and Refresher Food Preparers courses.
It is not for lack of desire that the problem continues. In my heart, as a physician, I believe that no restaurant owner, no restaurant manager and no restaurant food handler would willfully compromise food safety.
It is however, likely, caused because there is a lack of education of and lack of enforcement of important principles within the weakest link in the chain – the entry-level server.
An estimated 1/3 of all workers get their first job experience in a restaurant. Where did they first learn food handling? Likely it was at home. LA County developed a home kitchen food safety quiz. The results showed a serious and significant lack of food safety practices within the home. Expect that most entry-level restaurant employees need to be trained or retrained in food safety practices!
Consider that the transmission of illness from food workers to the food they are handling is the implicated cause of 18% of foodborne illness outbreaks. Over half of all food workers (58%) reported they had worked a shift while ill. (CDC Statistics). According to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, 63% of the restaurant workers admit that they turn up for work when they were sick. Handling of ready to eat food with bare hands, inadequate hand washing and lack of use of gloves during food preparation by a sick employee sets up a potential food borne illness event.
It is also often a lack of reinforcement of food safety standards. In a Dirty Dining Report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest summarizing restaurant inspection reports from 20 large metropolitan areas, 66% of restaurants failed a critical inspection item. Those violations put restaurants at risk for a food borne illness event.
What can a food borne illness event cost a restaurant? Financially it can be crippling!
In the 1993 Jack in the Box food poisoning epidemic, insurers paid out over $98 million with the largest settlement of $15.6 million. While this is not the average, it shows how devastating the loss can be.
Class action complaints are often filed.
Seventy-four people filed a class action lawsuit against a national chain. 328 people reportedly got sick from Shigella traced to two employees.
A complaint was filed against a national chain seeking damages of $75,000 per person. There were 68 people in 10 states who allegedly suffered poisoning from Salmonella.
A class action complaint was filed against a national chain seeking $25,000 per person. Twenty-five people in 8 states suffered an infection from E.Coli allegedly from clover sprouts.
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.
If the cost of a defending and paying for a legal suit isn’t enough, the damage to the restaurant image can be devastating. It is intuitive.
Admittedly, not all food borne epidemics can be prevented by education and enforcement of standards, but many will be. Not all tarnished reputations can be saved by education and enforcement of standards but why not make your restaurant the best it can be.
- Develop a training requirement prior to employing entry-level food servers. Insist new servers provide a satisfactory completion certificate.
- Re-evaluate your food safety enforcement program by mid level servers.
- Team up with an organization that can do secret diner focused surveys or obtain confidential employee feedback showing weaknesses.
- Use continuous process improvement methods.
- Create a climate where your Food Safety image becomes important.
If you are a restaurant owner or manager, your restaurant’s financial well-being and reputation may be at stake.