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June 01, 2023

Sick restaurant workers account for 40% of food poisoning outbreaks, CDC says

Philly's health department requires employees to report any virus or bacteria that can spread to food; managers must prevent sick employees from working

Illness Food Poisoning
Food poisoning sick employees PROSTOCK-STUDIO/ISTOCK.COM

A CDC report found that 40% of food poisoning outbreaks occur because of a sick food service employee. The CDC said comprehensive paid sick leave packages are needed to reduce illness.

Sick food service employees account for 40% of food poisoning outbreaks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed this week.

The data comes from a report that reviewed outbreaks recorded by 25 state and local health departments from 2017 through 2019. The most common illnesses were norovirus (47%) and salmonella (18.6%).

Food poisoning is an illness caused by contaminated food. The CDC estimates that 48 million people get sick from foodborne diseases annually, with 128,000 hospitalized and 3,000 dead.

725 food service managers were interviewed for the report; 665 said they required staff to notify management if they were sick. Of those 665, 620 said they block workers from coming in or restrict them while they are sick, but only 316 said their companies offer paid sick leave.

To control outbreaks, the report says restaurants need "comprehensive ill-worker policies."

Neither Pennsylvania nor Philadelphia were included in the report. In Philly, all employees are entitled to paid time off when sick; for every 40 hours worked, employees get one hour of paid sick leave.

The CDC acknowledged the report's limitations, including the small number of health departments analyzed, differences in procedures from one health department to another and that data was collected before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Philadelphia Food Code states that employees and new hires must report any transferable illness experienced within the last three months, including Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli, hepatitis and any other contagious virus.  

Employees must also report when they have symptoms that correlate to these viruses, including diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat and a fever, or if they live with someone who may be sick. 

Managers must block employees diagnosed with infectious viruses or bacteria from working. In addition, sick employees cannot come into contact with any food, utensils or equipment. 

Causes of foodborne illness include not properly washing hands, not having hot water, not correctly cleaning equipment, lack of proper refrigeration and infected employees passing bacteria to food. 

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