McDonald’s food handler in Calgary has hepatitis A

A food handler at a McDonald’s restaurant in Calgary, AB was diagnosed with hepatitis A this week, resulting a risk of exposure to thousands of customer who ate there between October 1 and 23.
There has been a bunch of coverage locally and nationally.  While watching Canada AM this morning I caught this on the Crawl; "Thousands exposed to Hep A at Calgary McDonald’s" The Calgary Herald, and Calgary Sun both covered the story today. 

From the Herald:

Ron Thompkins, who drives a semi-trailer truck in the area and eats at that McDonald’s almost everyday, plans to get vaccinated. "This really sucks," he said, explaining that he’s concerned about the cleanliness of McDonald’s in general. "The bathrooms are very dirty. The toilets are filthy. It needs to be cleaned more."

I think it’s interesting that Thompkins brings up that he’s concerned about how often the bathrooms are cleaned, and still eats at the McDonald’s almost every day. I’m not surprised, likely the safety of the food at this location was never in question for Tompkins until the hep A news hit — that’s an assumption I’m making based on him eating there often. Now he’s been told about the risk and he’s voicing something he noticed but didn’t think was a problem.  This is one of the problems food safety communicators face — though around 1 in 4 people get sick each year,  events like these are still quite rare, and only when they occur do some individuals (consumers, staff, managers) really take notice.

For today’s iFSN infosheet sheet, we used the story as the hook, and focused on what food handlers can do.  Hep a is more problematic for businesses than other pathogens because staff can have and pass on the virus without showing symptoms, and even if the food handler is a handwashing superstar you are going to have a line up outside your restaurant (or at the health unit/clinic) while patrons get their post-exposure shots.  So maybe the answer for some businesses is to require (and possibly pay for) hep A vaccines for food handlers.  Staff turnover, lack of protection from other bugs and the cost are problems, but vaccinations may be worth requiring to keep your company out of the newspaper.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.