Food safety is the number one priority for restaurants, or so it should seem. But with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent estimation that about 20 million people suffer from foodborne illnesses every year, health officials are starting to question food practices in many of America’s eateries.
Commonly called the “stomach bug,” norovirus, is the cause of discomfort, nausea, vomiting, and even diarrhea that stems from food poisoning. Of the over 4,000 outbreaks of norovirus between 2009 and 2012, roughly 1,000 of them were food-related.
The CDC is pointing to restaurants to help stop these outbreaks, saying that food service employees infected with the virus continue to work despite their illness, often contaminating the food served to patrons.
The report from the CDC explains that while the norovirus usually affects raw foods, such as fresh vegetables and fruits, it is usually transmitted through workers that use their bare hands to handle food. Instead of working despite the illness, the CDC suggests that all sick employees remain at home for at least two days until the symptoms pass.
This could help solve many of the norovirus outbreaks, but workers are unwilling to do this in many cases. Some say that they are afraid of losing their jobs, or do not want to leave their co-workers understaffed. In fact, the CDC report shows that one in five workers who are sick with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea continue working.
The other problem, according to the CDC, is that of all the activities performed at work that require hand washing, employees only wash their hands 27% of the time. In addition, when they wear gloves, that number drops to 16%.
Despite these numbers, one restaurant in Kansas City is getting it right. Anton’s Butcher Shop is one of only 269 eateries in the city to receive a Grade A Food Safety Excellence Award. Part of a larger restaurant called Anton’s Taproom, the butcher shop has been called one of the cleanest eateries in Kansas City, according to the Kansas City Health Department. The owner is particular about hand washing, and has installed a communal sink outside of the bathroom, as well as cameras to monitor employees and patrons. This keeps both parties accountable for washing their hands, says the owner.
While hand washing may not eradicate norovirus completely, it can make a difference, and according to the CDC, the prevention of foodborne illnesses could be in the hands of food workers.