Whenever we fall sick in our normal lives, either with some kind of stomach virus or a cold, we tend to stay away from other people’s food, and we don’t prepare food for other people. After all, we don’t want other people to get sick on our account.
The question is what happens when a restaurant employee, who prepares food for a lot of people, gets sick? What happens when they begin to get the first sign of a cold or something worse? Of course, you would like to assume that these employees simply call their employers and ask for a sick day, but the truth is that a lot of them decide to work in their condition.
A study was carried out in 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where 426 restaurants were chosen at random. In the study, each restaurant manager and at least one employee was asked about going to work while sick. According to the results, about 12 percent of the employees at these restaurants claimed that they had worked multiple shifts in the previous one year while having conditions like diarrhea or vomiting.
The study also found that it was more likely that restaurant workers called in sick at restaurants where more than 300 meals were served every day, when the policy did not require the workers to tell the managers about their sickness, when there wasn’t anyone to stand in for the sick worker, and when the manager didn’t have much experience, usually less than four years. It was also observed to be more rampant in male workers than in female workers.
This situation is quite worrisome, and it will probably make you think twice about eating out. However, if you own a restaurant, it should come as a wake-up call to avoid having the same happen in your restaurant.
If you run a restaurant, part of your branding strategy can be to assure customers that you take every measure possible to ensure that health code regulations are followed and that you take every measure possible to make sure the food and drinks that you serve to your customers are clean and healthy.
As a food service manager, you should concern yourself with the safe handling of food to prevent the spread of illnesses caused by contaminated food. This is especially important if certain kinds of populations frequent your restaurant, such as pregnant mothers, children, the elderly, and the sick. These groups tend to be vulnerable to illnesses that might not affect other parts of the population as easily.
When your restaurant employees are sick, it is your responsibility to ensure that they limit the amount of contact they have with the food you serve your employees, depending on how severe the illness is. You should also create a safe space for them and encourage them to be honest with you about any illnesses they have and to take some time off when you do, even it means they have to forfeit pay for that day.
What Guidelines Should You Follow?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Restaurant Association (NRA) have very clear and straightforward guidelines designed to prevent the outbreak of illnesses borne by food. They are not-so-fondly referred to as throwing up at work laws. Additionally, as a food service manager, or if you are going to employ a separate food service manager, you will have to pass through the ServSafe course that is offered by the National Restaurant Association in order to be considered for permanent employment in a restaurant. This course will give you comprehensive guidelines about how you should handle employees who fall ill.
It is important that you take the course or get your manager to take the course as it will help develop the right kind of policy for your employees. It will also give you a chance to understand how food-borne illnesses are spread and how to stop each one of them. You might be surprised at all of the things you do not know about the illnesses that are borne by food.
Restrictions on Sick Employees
There are certain kinds of sicknesses that require an employee to stay as far away from food as possible. These include highly contagious conditions, such as sore throats and fevers. When your restaurant employees have sore throats and fevers then they should not be allowed to come into contact with food.
You might think it’s okay to allow them around food with safety precautions like hair coverings, aprons, gloves, and clean hands. However, you should not allow anyone working in food service with a cold near food, even in such circumstances as the contagion could still spread.
You should ensure that employees who have fevers and sore throats, even mild ones, do not get close to food. There are restaurants where such employees are given different kinds of duties instead. These may include sweeping, setting tables, or pretty much anything that isn’t related to the kitchen.
Even with such duties, it is still not a good idea to let such employees find their way around vulnerable populations, because they could still spread their illnesses to them. If a lot of high-risk patrons come to your restaurant, then you should give these employees a day off.
Employees That Should Be Completely Excluded
There are certain conditions which, if exhibited by employees, should cause them to get an immediate day off. They should not be allowed to work while they have such conditions in whatever capacity. These include diarrhea, vomiting, and jaundice. The same holds for employees who have contracted food-borne illnesses, such as E.coli, shigella, hepatitis A, or salmonella. So watch out for an employee throwing up at work. These employees should not be allowed anywhere near a food service area, let alone a kitchen.
As a manager, you shouldn’t allow these employees to get back to work without some kind of proof that they are better, either. You should require some kind of written clearance from the employee’s doctor or another health provider before you allow them to get back to work. This isn’t only a matter of policy, it is one of the guidelines of the National Restaurant Association.
Guidelines aside, it is wise to practice impeccable personal hygiene when you are working in a public place. Doing so will help avoid spreading an illness. This includes such things as cleaning your fingernails, washing your hands in hot water and soap for at least 20 seconds. In case you use gloves a lot, you should change your gloves frequently, to avoid contamination.
There are other things food service workers should take care of, making sure that they do not touch their hair, nose, eyes, skin, or face. Their clothes should be clean at all times. It is a good idea to have a uniform for your employees that gets washed every evening and is clean by the next morning when they come to work. Food workers should also wear coverings on their hair whenever they handle food or anything edible.
Ultimately, it’s a matter of policy. By having the right kind of policy at your restaurant, you will infuse a culture of good hygiene in your employees and they will do most of these things without you having to tell them.
Source: Nicky LaMarco for Chron Small Business