According to the CDC, 48 million people are sickened by food borne illnesses causing 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually.[i] The PEW Charitable Trusts estimates that the economy, healthcare and workplaces take a combined hit of $152 billion each year resulting from the costs of foodborne illness.[ii] These costs are likely to increase, as foodborne illnesses are not completely preventable, only containable.
When an outbreak of a foodborne illness occurs, the contaminated product makes the nightly news, but how the product was contaminated (via processing equipment, supplier, food worker illness, etc.) is typically unknown until an investigation ensues. The focus is on tracing the origin of the contaminated food product and removing it from the marketplace.
The aforementioned sources of contamination are probable since they can and have contributed to foodborne illnesses. There have been numerous outbreaks over the years caused by all of these sources of contamination. This article will focus on the food worker and her potential role in contaminating food.
We have become all too familiar with E-coli and Salmonella outbreaks that cause illness to consumers but surprisingly, Norovirus is actually the number one cause of foodborne illness in the U.S.[iii] Norovirus is spread by touching contaminated objects and surfaces but it can also be contracted from consuming food or beverages that have been contaminated with the virus.[iv] Food can be contaminated by these pathogens when a food worker does not thoroughly clean fecal matter off of her hands before touching the food. Yes, you read that correctly! The most notable outbreak linked to food workers was the Chipotle outbreak of Norovirus and E-coli. The company recently announced that they are permanently closing up to 65 locations.[v] People are still afraid to eat at Chipotle. They are concerned about food safety.[vi] The tarnished reputation of an establishment associated with an outbreak is clearly detrimental. Also, it impacts every business dependent upon Chipotle (or any business where an outbreak occurs) in the supply chain.
Consumers take for granted that the food they eat is safe because regulations are in place to help ensure food workers are properly washing their hands after using the restroom. We see signs everywhere emphasizing “mandatory hand washing by employees” before they return to work. These regulations, designed to bring uniformity across the food industry, seem to be viewed only as suggestions by some employees even though these regulations are clearly stated in the FDA Food Code.[vii] The code has a whole section dedicated to proper hand washing before handling food.
Research has shown that food workers attempted hand washing only about 27% of the time after coughing, sneezing working with raw animal products or handlingdirty equipment, utensils and cloths.[viii] This is a disturbing statistic when thinking aboutthe food production chain leading up to the consumption of food (production, processing, and distribution, preparation).[ix] Contamination can occur anywhere in the food production chain. However, Todd, et al. (2008), found that “regardless of the origin of the contamination, pathogens are most likely to be transmitted through the hands touching a variety of surfaces, highlighting the need for effective hand hygiene.”[x] Managers and supervisors must do a better job of enforcing hygiene regulations across the entire food industry.
The FDA Food Code also outlines restrictions for food workers who are ill. Consumers assume workers stay home and do not report to work when they are sick or not feeling well.[xi] However, research shows that 51% of workers across the various sectors of the food industry report to work even though they are aware their particular illness could spread to consumers.[xii] Food workers must stop and think about the serious repercussions of coming to work when they are sick, and management must enforce this policy.
An easy way to make sure that employees are practicing good hygiene is by providing products that are simple to use yet highly effective in killing bacteria.
2XL is a leading manufacturer of easy-to-use and effective cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting products. Our products are designed for use in numerous industries including the food industry. 2XL is changing the world by enabling customers to reduce infections, improve safety and wellness, and save lives. 2XL alcohol-free hand sanitizing wipes are large, durable wipes specifically designed to quickly and effectively clean hands. They are FDA approved and kill 99.99% of bacteria in 15 seconds.
[xii] https://www.techtimes.com/articles/97176/20151020/more –than-half-of-us-food-workers-still-go-to-work-even-when-sick.htm