Most restaurants run on a very small profit margin, and additional labor costs can make the difference between profit and loss in any given month. Most restaurants have a key set of people to run their shifts and can't afford to keep a trained backup staff on call in case of emergency. If this is the case in your restaurant, your sick employees may feel as if they have to come to work, even though they'll be interacting with people or dealing with food during their shift. Good handwashing procedures are the key to any restaurant's health and safety, but no amount of handwashing can prevent sick employees from passing on their illnesses.
This practice has been brought into the news lately in Boston, where a Chipotle restaurant worker was responsible for spreading the norovirus to up to 80 Boston College students who ate there, according to Food Safety News. One sick employee who didn't feel comfortable calling out of work managed to get an entire business shut down. While the restaurant owners chose to temporarily close the Chipotle branch, the hit to their reputation is one that will take years to recover from.
Why it Spreads
When dealing with norovirus and other virulent diseases, it is vital that you and your employees wash your hands regularly, especially after using the restroom. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), proper hand hygiene includes washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water. You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in addition to handwashing, but it should never replace washing your hands with soap and water. The problem with norovirus and other virulent diseases, however, is that basic handwashing techniques don't eliminate the danger of passing it to customers and other workers. The virus sticks to everything it lands on and can even float in the air for short amounts of time, according to Water Quality and Health Council. The CDC advises those who are sick to never handle or prepare food for others until at least two days after symptoms stop. In a very real sense, it's impossible to keep sick employees from spreading their illness to customers and other workers.
What to Do
As much as it will inconvenience your dinner service, the best practice is to send sick workers home instead of allowing them to stay and work. Make it a company policy that sick employees should call out of work (without being punished) if they are contagious. You may have a stressful service or two if you're short-handed, but preventing an outbreak like the Chipotle incident will also prevent a much more stressful time in your restaurant career.
For more information on cleaning for disease prevention, click here.
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