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October 9, 2022

By Jayne Roth, M.P.H, REHSRimkus Consulting Group, Inc.

At the end of 2021, a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association showed that 78 percent of operators said that their restaurants do not have enough employees to support the needs of people. The lack of workers is not only an economic issue, but also a food security issue. With less staff, many safety and operational processes are shortened in exchange for service objectives. This can increase the risk of foodborne illnesses (FBIs).

Going out to dinner with family should not cause an impending sense of danger. However, did you know that there are more than 250 types of diseases that can cause foodborne illness? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes data every year of the FBI, such as hospitalizations, and deaths, and these numbers are in the thousands. FBI can happen anywhere at any time, including one’s own home. However, restaurants or businesses that provide food have higher expectations for FBI control and lack of workers due to the Covid-19, which can result in increased risks and additional debts to their owners. food security and the institutions themselves.

It is important to know that FBI can happen to anyone and can have different degrees of severity. A person who suffers from something they ate can be harmed. This may cause them to miss work days, which means that some families are unable to buy food for dinner this week or are unable to take care of their children. Or it may result in a longer hospital stay, among other consequences.

Fear of the spread of COVID-19 has forced millions of consumers and workers to stay at home, causing spending to fall sharply by four entertainment, gas, and food. This double-edged sword reduces the number of customers who go out to eat and results in a drop in sales. Restaurants either can’t stay in business, or they downsize to do so. The number of restaurant workers fell by 2.2 million from 2019-2020. Unfortunately, many restaurants are trying to maintain the status quo, but with a price that can be found for those who eat at home. We know the hard way that the FBI may suffer from the effects of COVID-19 from the current situation.

Restaurant prices in 2020, after adjusting for COVID-19, are $659 billion ($240 billion less than projected). Restaurant managers and owners are trying to stay open and working, and that’s commendable. However, a survey conducted by the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association found that 88 percent of respondents are operating understaffed. The public health sector has seen thousands of diseases that have occurred for many years, and there is a great need for new laws and regulations based on the current science that has been used to change business practices.

An eight-page restaurant menu, for example, should not be used with a crew member unless they make other adjustments. Staff are required to operate the kitchen in a manner that maintains a controlled environment and ensures that corners are not cut in terms of food safety.

It seems simple, but the effects of the lack of staff in public health need to be addressed immediately. Labor violations, such as not giving employees time to eat or rest, can be common in restaurants. These violations often go unpunished since workers cannot refuse shifts, speak up for their rights, or take sick time. Unfortunately, FBIs are happening in understaffed restaurants. Those employees who continue to work may not have the knowledge or experience needed to manage food hazards in the kitchen. However, having knowledge of food safety is not a predictor of good food handling, especially in times of limited time, poor education, and lack of resources.

One of the biggest contributors to foodborne illness is human error. Usually, these mistakes are unintended. For example, an employee who is in a hurry or forgets to take the heat into the meat that is cooking and accidentally gives the hamburger that is not cooked (which may cause harm). Or they put packages of raw chicken on a high shelf in the cooler, and drip raw juices onto (and spoil) the ready-to-eat food. below. Or leaving frozen products out in the heat of the sun for hours, safely and safely. These human errors increase when restaurant workers are understaffed, leaving less time to follow proper food safety procedures.

Cutting corners, working while sick, and a general lack of food safety knowledge can lead to disastrous results. In 2018, a British chef admitted to ignoring food regulations and revealed that he was in a hurry while preparing Shepherd’s pie, which led to poor cooking, heating, and reheating steps are necessary to control the viability or growth of food. As a result, one person died and 30 people got sick. The chef was eventually sentenced to four months in prison, community service, and a large fine.

These situations may end up in court. If a restaurant has insurance, it may not be enough to cover the medical costs of sick customers. Food service organizations must comply with applicable laws and regulations to protect their reputation and, ultimately, their pocketbooks.

During the FBI investigation, I had some heartbreaking conversations with a young couple whose husband was on life support from complications from E. coli 015:H7. I had conversations with a mother whose son was lying on the bathroom floor screaming as he suffered from vomiting and gasping at the same time after eating a healthy shake. The list could go on and on. Ignoring proper food safety practices has proven harmful.

The solution seems simple, doesn’t it? Don’t operate understaffed. But what defines “understaffing?” I can imagine that the decision to close or reduce staff is one of the most difficult decisions for a manager or manager to make. The businesses that are installing their menus, is a good way, as well as reducing the hours of operation and reducing the available tables. Reviewing food systems to build food safety by partnering with a food safety expert can reduce steps, save time, improve quality, and reduce food risk. If such information exists, then work with a food safety expert/consultant, who can help identify information, respond, and investigate. claims related to food, food packaging, and practices. These studies may include:

COVID-19 has presented many challenges to the food service industry, but nothing that can’t be overcome with action and strategic planning. Many of these challenges are shaping the industry for the future. By understanding how these challenges affect food safety, we will shape a more resilient business into the future.

Restaurant job growth remained in September, National Restaurant Association, October 2021. https://restaurant.org/education-and-resources/resource-library/restaurant-job-growth-remained -sluggish-in-september/

2 Burden of Foodborne Illness: Findings. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/foodborneburden/2011-foodborne-estimates.html#:~:text=Burden%20of%20Foodborne%20Illness%3A%20Findings.%20CDC%20estimates%20that,are%20hospitalized%2C% 20and%203%2C000%20death%20of%20food%20disease.

3 2021 State of the Hospitality Industry Report: Technology Trends, the Future of Restaurants and More. Lightspeed. October 2021. https://www.lightspeedhq.com/blog/state-of-the-hospitality-industry/

4 THE PART OF THE EMPLOYEE: WHY ARE COMPANIES TRYING TO FIND EMPLOYMENT? 360 Training. https://www.360training.com/blog/restaurant-labor-shortage

5 90 percent of state restaurants, hotels are understaffed as businesses struggle to survive https://www.fox2detroit.com/news/90-percent-of-state-restaurants-hotels-are-understaffed-as- industry-struggles-to-prosper

6 THE EMPLOYEE SECTOR: Why are companies struggling to recruit? 360 Training. https://www.360training.com/blog/restaurant-labor-shortage

7 Evaluation of Preservatives in Food Safety Culture in Retail Stores. FOOD PROTECTION LAW | AUGUST 2012 https://www.foodprotection.org/files/food-protection-trends/Aug-12-Neal.pdf

8 The cook was punished when the shepherd’s pie struck 32 people for food, killing one. Ben Chapman. December 2021. https://www.gbnews.uk/news/chef-sentenced-after-deadly-shepherds-pie-strikes-down-32-people-with-food-poisoning-killing-one/170302

About the author: Jayne Roth, MPH, REHS, is the Senior Consultant for Food Safety at Rimkusin Portland, OR. He has more than 25 years of experience in the food industry, working in all sectors of government and food safety programs of large companies such as Walmart and Amazon. His experience includes local and state governments, working closely with State Infectious Disease Teams to reduce major foodborne illnesses. He is well versed in compliance with food safety regulations and the regulatory structure of the US public health authorities and has served as the Illinois US FDA Food Standardization Officer. Roth was involved in federal and state food regulation as part of the US FDA Model Food Code. She holds a master’s degree in public health with an emphasis in microbiology.

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