The Truth About Food Poisoning

Bottom line: Sick workers are too job-insecure, and sick customers are too racist.

Photo: Peri Apex/Flickr

Photo: Peri Apex/Flickr

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has released a report about novovirus, a.k.a. food poisoning, and it includes some disturbing information about how the contagious virus usually spreads. According to the CDC report:

  • Infected food workers cause about 70% of reported norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food.
  • 1 in 5 food service workers have reported working while sick with vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Fear of job loss and leaving coworkers short staffed were significant factors in their decision.

The fact that someone would still show up to work while suffering the horrendous symptoms of food poisoning indicates an environment that’s, well, unhealthy. Workers in any industry should be able to take sick days when they need them, but it’s even more essential in the food-service world.

Novovirus is incredibly difficult to kill; it’s resistant to common disinfectants, and can linger on surfaces for up to two weeks. The best strategy is to try and keep it out of the kitchen in the first place, which is why the CDC recommends employers offer paid sick leave and don’t punish workers for their illness-related absence.

chinatown The Truth About Food Poisoning

Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Francis Bijl/Flickr

But exploitative employers aren’t the only people who need to improve their behavior, says Andrew Simmons of Slate. He finds that customers who contract the virus disproportionately blame ethnic restaurants on Yelp, “but the truth is that the last meal you ate is often not the one that sickened you.”

According to Simmons, Salmonella takes effect a full day after the offending food has been ingested; Campylobacter kicks in after 2-5 days; and E. coli symptoms only develop more than a week after contact with the bacteria. But he found that most Yelpers will accuse the most recent non-Western meal they ate for giving them the runs.

The lesson here is to wash your hands more, and be xenophobic less.

[via The Daily Meal, Slate]

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