Study finds sick workers tied to 40% of restaurant food poisoning

CDC study sheds light on the alarming prevalence of food poisoning outbreaks caused by sick hospitality workers
The survey found that women were more likely than men to be influenced by the cleanliness and hygiene of the establishment when deciding where to eat out.

Findings underscore the importance of implementing and enforcing robust policies to prevent sick employees from handling food

In a recent investigation conducted by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it has been uncovered that sick hospitality workers were responsible for 40% of food poisoning outbreaks in US restaurants between 2017 and 2019.

The study, which analysed data from 25 state and local health departments across the US, revealed that a total of 800 foodborne illness outbreaks were reported during the two-year period. These outbreaks were associated with 875 retail food establishments and were documented in the National Environmental Assessment Reporting System.

Among the reported outbreaks, 47% were attributed to the highly contagious Norovirus, while 18.6% were linked to salmonella contamination. It was also found that approximately 40% of the outbreaks with identified contributing factors involved infected or infectious workers contaminating the food.

To gain insights into the policies and practices of restaurant managers regarding sick employees, researchers interviewed a sample of 725 managers.

The results showed that 91.7% of managers claimed to have a policy in place that required staff members to notify them when they were unwell.

However, only 85.5% of establishments actually had a policy to prevent sick workers from continuing to work.

Even more concerning was the fact that a mere 23% of restaurants had a policy mandating the reporting of five key symptoms to managers if exhibited by an employee. These symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, a sore throat with fever, and lesions with pus.

The study also identified additional causes of food poisoning outbreaks, such as undercooked ingredients and cross-contamination. For example, preparing salad on a chopping board that had not been properly cleaned after being used for raw meat.

Speaking to The New York Times, Prof Daniel Schneider, an expert on social policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, emphasised the need for a “food safety culture where absenteeism due to illness is not penalised.” He continued: “Food service workers face really impossible trade-offs around issues like working sick because food service jobs are so low paid in our economy.”

While the base salary of waitstaff in the US varies significantly based on experience and other factors, many still rely on tips from customers to supplement their incomes.

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