Food Safety: It’s in Your Employees’ Hands

Help stop the spread of norovirus, aka stomach flu, and keep your customers and employees healthy with these tips.
Chef washing hands

Every day American consumers put their trust in the hands of millions of employees who prepare our food. That’s not a bad thing, considering that 87% of foodservice employees say they would serve what they make to their own families. However, the recent landscape of the foodservice industry has been saturated with stories of well-known restaurant chains struggling with foodborne illness. How does this happen if employees preparing food are confident in serving that same food to their families? Typically it’s a misconception as to how foodborne illnesses spread

Norovirus—commonly called “stomach flu”—is easily spread by hand-to-hand contact. It’s also the nation’s No.1 cause of foodborne-illness outbreaks from contaminated food. It’s not hard to understand when more than half foodservice-industry workers report they “always” or “frequently” go to work when they’re sick, according to a recent study.

Here are the top three reasons foodservice employees report to work when they’re sick:

  • Not wanting to let their co-workers down
  • Not being able to afford to lose pay
  • And not believing they are contagious

That’s why food-safety training is key to helping your employees understand the dangers of coming to work sick. You may not be able to provide paid sick leave to your employees, but you can explain the dangers of working while sick, like infecting other employees or guests. Explain that if illness spreads throughout the operation, it may have to close down and none of the employees would get paid. And, lastly, it’s important to protect the operation’s reputation as being one that follows important food-safety guidelines.

Include information about preventing foodborne illness in every employee’s training. Explain the symptoms of norovirus to help employees understand when they might be spreading foodborne illness. Some classic symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain, fever, headaches and body aches.

Have employees report any signs of illness to the person in charge since they will need to be restricted or excluded from working with food.

Norovirus can spread quickly, most often by employees who touch ready-to-eat foods (such as raw fruits and vegetables) with their bare hands. Since the virus particles can live on surfaces such as door handles and light switches for up to two weeks, proper cleaning and sanitation are very important.

To prevent the spread of norovirus, emphasize these important practices with your employees:

  • Practice proper hand hygiene; when and how to wash hands
  • Wash fruits and vegetables, especially ready-to-eat
  • Report any signs/symptoms of illness to management
  • Restrict or exclude sick employees from working with food
  • Do not serve food if you or anyone in your home is sick
  • Remember that a person is contagious for the first few days post-illness
  • Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. Use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1,000–5,000 ppm or other disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency.

For more information on food safety training, contact the Nutrition Resource Center by emailing

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