Analysis reveals alarming contribution of ill workers to outbreaks and need for improved policies

U.S – A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revealed that approximately 40 percent of foodborne illness outbreaks in retail food establishments from 2017 to 2019 were caused by infected employees.

During the study period, National Environmental Assessment Reporting System (NEARS)  received reports of 800 foodborne illness outbreaks linked to 875 retail food establishments, with 555 outbreaks having a confirmed or suspected agent.

Norovirus accounted for 47 percent of the outbreaks, followed by Salmonella at 18.6 percent.

NEARS, launched in 2014, complements the National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS) surveillance by providing a platform for state and local health departments to enter data from their investigations.

The role of infectious employees

The CDC’s analysis revealed that around 40 percent of outbreaks with identified contributing factors had at least one reported factor related to food contamination by an ill or infectious food worker. Interviews conducted with retail food managers further highlighted the issue.

This highlights the crucial role that infected employees play in propagating foodborne illnesses within

The majority (91.7 percent) of managers reported having a policy requiring employees to notify their supervisor when they were ill.

However, only 66 percent stated that their sick employee policy was documented, and a mere 23 percent had a policy specifying the complete list of illness symptoms that workers were required to report.

Additionally, while 85.5 percent of interviewees claimed to have a policy restricting or excluding ill workers from work, only 16.1 percent of establishments linked to outbreaks had policies addressing all four components related to ill or infectious workers.

CDC suggests that the content and enforcement of existing sick policies need reevaluation and refinement based on the report’s findings.

Further analysis of the data will help guide the development of effective strategies for preventing contamination by describing the relationship between establishment characteristics, food safety policies, practices, and foodborne illness outbreaks.

The study highlights the importance of comprehensive sick policies in preventing foodborne illness outbreaks.

It emphasizes the need for clear guidelines on reporting illness, symptoms to be reported, and the appropriate restrictions or exclusions for ill workers.

Adequate enforcement of these policies is crucial for maintaining the safety and integrity of retail food establishments and protecting public health.

Regular training and education programs for food workers on proper hygiene practices and the significance of timely reporting of illness can also play a vital role in reducing the risk of outbreaks.

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