Food Safety and Success through Employee Hygiene and Illness Prevention
A strong illness policy in your establishment can help prevent food contamination by sick employees, and foodborne illness outbreaks. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that more than half of outbreaks in the US have been traced to ill food workers, notably employees infected with Norovirus, Hepatitis A, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens. This can be devastating to a food establishment, resulting in sick customers, lawsuits, damages and threatening the very existence of the business. that the average cost of an outbreak to a restaurant is $75,0001, most of which never recover financially.
Poor personal hygiene is one of CDC’s 5 major risk factors that contribute to foodborne illness in foodservice operations. Contaminated bare hands of foodhandlers is the most common means of transmitting gastrointestinal viruses and bacteria to foods. Enforcing safe food handling practices is important in helping to prevent foodborne illness.
- 65% of outbreaks were associated with an infected person handling foods, many with no signs of being sick2
- Inadequate handwashing was found in 76% of food establishment inspections by FDA, the second most common violation in the industry3
- Hand-to-food contamination was discovered in about 46% of restaurant inspections, according to FDA3
- Food workers carry out about 9 activities an hour that should involve handwashing, but only do so in a 27% of these instances. 4
- Staphylococcus aureus can be naturally present on skin and can result in food contamination through bare hand contact. It grows in food and typically makes toxins when it multiplies to > 1,000,000/gram of food.5
- Human fecal matter contains 10,000,000 pathogens/gram (Hepatitis A, Norovirus, Shigella)6
- As little as 18 Norovirus particles may be enough to cause infection7
Biological hazards are invisible and whether someone is a disease carrier cannot be solely judged on the presence of symptoms alone. Enforcing safe food handling practices is important in helping to minimize food contamination from hands of all food workers, which can help prevent the spread of microorganisms that cause foodborne illness. We should also be equally conscientious about adopting and enforcing an effective employee illness policy.
These simple activities will do a lot to help prevent food contamination and employees’ infecting others:
- Washing hands continually and between tasks
- Avoiding bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods (use single-use gloves or other barrier)
- Training and monitoring of personal hygiene behaviors
- Having a strong illness policy in place to encourage food workers to report symptoms and any diagnoses of Salmonella, norovirus, Shigella, E. coli and Hepatitis A
- Clean and sanitize work areas to prevent food contamination, especially between raw animal foods and ready to eat foods
The combination of employee training and a sound illness policy, i.e., restricting workers that have fever, and excluding workers with vomiting, diarrhea or major illness, will allow you to maintain a healthy and successful operation.
By Cindy Rice, RS, CP-FS, MSPH Eastern Food Safety