Food safety and worker safety are inextricably linked

Peter O’driscoll, director of the Washington-based Equitable Food Initiative at Oxfam America, writes in this letter to The New York Times regarding, “Protect Those Who Protect Our Food” (Op-Ed, Nov. 13), to say that Jacob E. Gersen and Benjamin I. Sachs make an excellent point about the importance of worker training and benefits to prevent foodborne illness: Food safety starts at the hands of the workers who harvest and prepare what we eat. But in addition to regulations to protect workers and the food supply, we need a fresh, collaborative approach to the challenge.

California Central Valley Farming Communities Struggle With DroughtForward-thinking companies like Costco Wholesale and Bon Appétit Management have joined forces with growers, farmworker unions and consumer groups to develop a new certification program that incentivizes workers in the produce industry to make food safety a priority at the point of harvest.

This multi-stakeholder strategy is good for consumers, companies and workers alike, and could well be applied to the other high-risk sectors of the food economy that Mr. Gersen and Mr. Sachs identify.

Ellen K. Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, writes that Gersen and Sachs perpetuate the idea that workers are responsible for much of the burden of foodborne illness in the United States.

Workers are part of a chain of pathogen transmission that begins on farms (both crop and livestock); moves into slaughter and processing plants where little is done to reduce pathogen carriage on animals, carcasses and products; and then moves finally to wholesale and consumer markets. During this process, after the so-called hazard control point, workers are exposed to these pathogens as they make our food.

Research by us and others demonstrates that worker safety and food safety are inextricably related. The fragmentation of authority among the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, along with recent regulatory changes in oversight, obscure the real origins of these risks as well as opportunities to control them.

Nosestretcher alert: foodborne illness never happens to us: even if employees show up sick

Two separate cases of food poisoning at Indiana eateries in the past two weeks have sickened more than 100 people, and created one additional entry to the we’ve-always-done-things-this-way-and-no-one-has-ever-gotten-sick file.

The Journal Gazette cited Mindy Waldron, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health administrator, said customers fell ill with norovirus after eating at El Azteca Mexican restaurant at 535 E. State Blvd. on April 2.

That outbreak followed, but was not directly related to, another norovirus outbreak among those who dined at Cebolla’s Mexican Grill at 5930 W. Jefferson Blvd. in Time Corners on March 25.

The Journal Gazette reported the outbreak at Cebolla’s on March 31 after being alerted by a reader. The health department responded to requests for information, saying there were at least 20 patrons involved in the outbreak at that time.

The outbreak at El Azteca was not reported publicly until Waldron’s report Monday to the Allen County Board of Health, with the report noting the investigations had been concluded. Both outbreaks were traced to sick employees who reported for work in spite of their illness, according to Waldron.

Co-owner of El Azteca, Cristina Ray Durnell, said they took the issue seriously and did everything asked by the Department of Health.

“We’ve been here 38 years and never had anything like this happen,” Ray Durnell said. “Our customers and their safety are our No. 1 priority. That was two weeks ago and we have dealt with it.”

At Cebolla’s, health officials were able to identify 249 patrons who were potentially exposed. The health department received 66 complaints and 109 people had symptoms of the virus, Waldron said. The El Azteca outbreak involved 35 patrons – all of whom had symptoms – and 10 complaints were received.

Did you just vomit or are you my waiter? Or both

Do people prepare and serve food at restaurants and other forms of food service, while barfing or crapping?

They sure do.

Is that a risk factor for disease transmission?


A bunch of U.S. researchers interviewed 491 food workers and their managers (n = 387) in nine states and found that 12 per cent of workers said they had worked while suffering vomiting or diarrhea on two or more shifts in the previous year.

“Factors associated with workers having worked while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea were (i) high volume of meals served, (ii) lack of policies requiring workers to report illness to managers, (iii) lack of on-call workers, (iv) lack of manager experience, and (v) workers of the male gender.”

The researchers acknowledged the study had several limitations – the uselessness of self-reported data, workers that were interviewed were chosen by the boss, not randomly, and not all infectious workers experience symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.

What the researchers do not seem to have acknowledged is this: not everyone who works at a restaurant is barfing or crapping because they are infectious or ill; some are just hungover.

Factors associated with food workers working while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea
Journal of Food Protection®, Volume 74, Number 2, February 2011 , pp. 215-220(6)
Sumner, Steven; Brown, Laura Green; Frick, Roberta; Stone, Carmily; Carpenter, L. Rand; Bushnell, Lisa; Nicholas, Dave; Mack, James; Blade, Henry; Tobin-D’Angelo, Melissa; Everstine, Karen
This study sought to determine the frequency with which food workers said they had worked while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, and to identify restaurant and worker characteristics associated with this behavior. We conducted interviews with food workers (n = 491) and their managers (n = 387) in the nine states that participate in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Environmental Health Specialists Network. Restaurant and worker characteristics associated with repeatedly working while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea were analyzed via multivariable regression. Fifty-eight (11.9%) workers said they had worked while suffering vomiting or diarrhea on two or more shifts in the previous year. Factors associated with workers having worked while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea were (i) high volume of meals served, (ii) lack of policies requiring workers to report illness to managers, (iii) lack of on-call workers, (iv) lack of manager experience, and (v) workers of the male gender. Our findings suggest that policies that encourage workers to tell managers when they are ill and that help mitigate pressures to work while ill could reduce the number of food workers who work while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea.

Norovirus caused the barf at Wisconsin luncheon; linked to sick workers working

Haaarrvard, are you listening? Letting sick workers serve food is a recipe for barf.

Waukesha County health officials confirmed Monday that norovirus is behind the outbreak of gastrointestinal illness reported by many of the 500 people attending a fund-raising luncheon last week at the Country Springs Hotel.

Julianne Klimetz, a county spokeswoman, said initial lab results confirmed the cause. In addition, investigators have confirmed that two people handling the food were ill at the time.

Klimetz said the Country Springs kitchen has been cleaned and kitchen staff have been informed about proper hand washing.

Everyone’s a comedian. Did anyone tell the staff not to work if they are barfing? Or would staff get fired for not showing up, even though the no-work-when-barfing thing is written in a manual somewhere.