Sick Workers Tied to 40% of Food Poisoning Outbreaks, C.D.C. Says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report released Tuesday that people who showed up to their restaurant jobs when sick were linked to 40 percent of food poisoning outbreaks from known causes from 2017 to 2019.

Paid sick leave and other policies that support sick employees can improve food safety outcomes, according to the reportIt was based on a review of 800 food poisoning outbreaks, using data provided by 25 state and local health departments.

The report said that out of 500 outbreaks where investigators identified at least one cause, 205 involved workers appeared ill. Other common causes included contaminated raw food in 88 cases and cross-contamination of ingredients in 68 cases.

In 555 outbreaks, investigators were able to determine whether a virus, bacterium, toxin, chemical or parasite was to blame. The report said that most outbreaks were caused by either Salmonella or Norovirus.

The report states that to deal with these outbreaks, “comprehensive sick employee policies will be needed.” It highlighted research that showed that extended paid sick leave reduced how often food service workers showed up sick at work, and noted that paid sick leave rules were linked to decreased rates of foodborne illness. .

Daniel Schneider, a professor of social policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, said the report was “bold” and highlighted that the United States is the only wealthy country with no federal paid sick leave.

Professor Schneider said, “Reports like this show its real urgency, not just because it is in the interests of workers, although it is, but because it is in the public interest.”

Of 725 managers interviewed by state and local health departments, 665 said their business required food workers to tell a supervisor if they were sick, and 620 said sick workers were either restricted was or was prevented from working. Less than half of managers — 316 — said their business provides paid sick leave to employees.

Professor Schneider is the director of shift project, which collects data about people in the retail and food service industries. He said workers said they showed up sick because there was no one able to cover for them, they would feel guilty for leaving their co-workers short handed, they could not afford to miss work or they would face retaliation from management. There was apprehension.

“Food service workers face truly impossible trade-offs around issues like sick work because food service jobs pay so little in our economy,” she said.

To discourage workers from showing up sick at restaurants, catering businesses, and food trucks and carts, businesses may need to better enforce existing policies, such as those that prevent workers from calling in sick; Plan on staffing a restaurant in case someone calls in sick; and “Adopt a food safety culture where absence due to illness is not punished.”

While health departments provide information on outbreaks representing “geographically diverse regions”, the report cautioned that its findings may not be representative of all US outbreaks. It also said it was based on information collected before the coronavirus pandemic and evidence that many retail food establishments had changed at least some of their policies.

Every year 48 million people get sick from foodborne illness, according to CDC estimates, Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

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