An ill food handler causes nearly 50% of all restaurant-related outbreaks.
While the study is now a few years old, as reported by State and Federal Environmental Health Specialists:
Many restaurant policies concerning ill food workers do not follow FDA recommendations.
One-third of the restaurants’ policies don’t address when ill food workers should not be allowed to work.
Managers are often NOT actively involved in decisions about whether ill food workers should work.
- Almost 70% of managers said they had worked while sick.
- 10% said they had worked while having nausea.
- A third of managers felt obligated to work even when ill.
Food handlers reportedly work despite being ill because:
- No one is available to replace them (26%), or
- Their symptoms are mild or thought not contagious (19%) or
- They had responsibilities no one else could fulfill (11%), or
- There was non–food handling work, they could do (7%), or
- They would not get paid if they did not work or,
- The restaurant had no sick leave policy (5%).
The authors conclude, “Data from this study can inform future research and help policy makers target interventions designed to reduce the frequency with which food workers work while ill.”
My conclusion is we might be able cut food borne illness in half if we would demand sick workers stay home.
If you are a restaurant owner, recognize that sick employees serving food increases your risk of spreading disease, tarnishing your company’s image and may cost you money through lawsuits.
If you are a restaurant manager, make sure you have policies in place that address ill workers. Give the ill worker the day off, it may save you a food borne illness event or epidemic. A worthy goal.
If you are a restaurant employee remember that the public places trust in your ability within the food service chain to serve safe, clean food. If you are sick, take the day off. You will get well faster and you may prevent someone else from getting sick. Another worthy goal.
If you are dining out and served by someone obviously sick, walk away. Don’t take the risk. Don’t send the food back. Don’t ask for another server. Just walk away. Putting a high priority on food safety will drive improvement across the board and then everyone benefits.