By: Richard E. Welch, Jr.
President & CEO, Hospitality Insurance Group
An outbreak of a foodborne illness is the angst of every restaurant owner. This type of risk at a restaurant could have significant consequences, potentially leading to liability, reputation damage, fines & penalties, or ultimately closure of the restaurant. As more people dine out at restaurants this summer, it is worth highlighting that the warmer months are the peak season for foodborne illnesses. Fortunately, restaurant owners have several options to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are almost 50 million cases of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. per year on average, resulting in over 125,000 hospitalizations and about 3,000 deaths. The most common causes are norovirus, salmonella, clostridium perfringens, campylobacter, and staphylococcus aureas. Less common but more serious are clostridium botulinum, listeria, E. coli, vibrio, and hepatitis A.
The most cited risk areas for restaurants are contamination from employees who are sick or have dirty hands, cross contamination from one food to another, leaving perishables exposed to the elements, and supply chain risks.
Foodborne illnesses can be costly if restaurant owners do not take proper precautions. Therefore, it is essential for restaurants to encourage the proper standards to reduce this type of risk. Restaurant owners can help protect guests from this threat by educating employees about the risks from foodborne illnesses, having them avoid handling food if they are sick, asking them to wash their hands thoroughly before handling food, and to wear gloves whenever possible.
The National Restaurant Association offers a Food Safety Manager Certification as part of its ServeSafe® program that could help reinforce important precautions at your establishment. Another worthwhile precaution includes checking the insurance limits of your general liability coverage with your insurance carrier.
If you suspect you may have experienced an outbreak of foodborne illness, it is important to do everything possible to mitigate the damage by reporting the incident to the appropriate authorities and notifying your general liability insurance carrier.