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Would paid sick leave reduce food poisoning outbreaks?

The CDC released a report indicating that 40% of food poisoning outbreaks at restaurants started with ill employees.
Would paid sick leave reduce food poisoning outbreaks?
Posted at 12:20 PM, May 31, 2023

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicated that sick workers lead to 40% of all foodborne illness outbreaks originating from restaurants. 

The study released this week by the CDC examined food poisoning outbreaks at restaurants from 2017-19. The data found a total of 800 foodborne illness outbreaks associated with 875 retail food establishments. 

The CDC said that norovirus and Salmonella resulted in the most illnesses, accounting for 47.0% and 18.6% of outbreaks, respectively.

Investigators interviewed 725 managers of establishments with a reported outbreak. Over 90% said they have policies that require workers to report illnesses, but some do not have these policies written. 

Of the managers interviewed, 85% said they have policies that restrict ill staff from working.

SEE MORE: Were you recently sick? This virus may be to blame

The CDC noted that fewer than half the restaurants offered any sort of paid sick leave, meaning many workers who reported being ill would be sent home without pay. 

"Research suggests that paid sick leave might improve food safety outcomes. Expanded paid sick leave in a restaurant chain reduced the incidence of working while ill among front-line food service workers, and supportive paid sick leave regulations were found to be associated with decreased foodborne illness rates," the CDC said. 

"A multilayered approach addressing implementation and enforcement might be required to prevent ill employees from working," the CDC added. "Such an approach not only includes adoption and enforcement of comprehensive written ill worker policies but also enhances training, management plans to continue operations when a worker is absent (e.g., on-call staffing), and adoption of a food safety culture where absenteeism due to illness is not penalized."

Other contributing factors to food poisoning outbreaks were contaminated raw food, bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food by a food worker suspected to have an infectious illness, cross-contamination of ingredients, and other unspecified sources of contamination.


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