Are Your Employees Increasing Your Risk for Norovirus?

It’s no secret that Norovirus is a major issue facing the foodservice industry, due to its frequency and ability to spread quickly. As the most common cause of foodborne illness, Norovirus accounts for 20 million cases in the U.S. each year1, and can cost a quick-serve restaurant between $6,330 and $2.1 million in damages from lost business and legal issues.2 Food safety protocols are an invaluable tool to keep guests safe from illness, but they’re only half the picture. You may be monitoring what’s coming in the back door in the way of supplies, but do you know what’s walking in the front door with your employees?

The CDC states that 70% of Norovirus cases are caused by foodservice workers.1 That means, even if you’re doing everything you can to protect your supply chain and keep your restaurant clean, there’s still a chance for Norovirus to spread. In fact, a recent outbreak at a leading fast food chain has been linked directly to human sources1, which is why it’s essential to ensure that employees are practicing good hand hygiene and staying home when they’re ill, to reduce the risk of an outbreak.

A survey among foodservice workers showed that 1 in 5 employees have reported working while sick with either vomiting or diarrhea1, and Norovirus can survive on surfaces for up to 2 weeks.1 So if employees aren’t washing uniforms, or washing their hands properly, your risk can increase dramatically – especially when you consider that observations have shown that workers only perform hand hygiene 1/4 as often as they should.1

The lack of proper hand hygiene practices can have a profound effect on your business, as sick employees pose a constant threat to food safety. 54% of Norovirus cases that are caused by employees result from direct contact with ready-to-eat food with their bare hands.1 This not only affects foods like raw fruits and vegetables, sandwiches and salads, but it can also contaminate foods that have already been cooked to temperature, and would otherwise be considered safe to serve.

You may not be able to control all the germs that your guests bring into your restaurant, but knowing the risks that sick employees pose to your business is imperative to maintaining a successful brand. And while food safety and supply chain best practices should always be observed, it’s important to emphasize to your employees that personal hygiene is a critical part of their job, and can either make or break your restaurant’s reputation.

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2. – U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: []