Working in food service can make taking a sick day feel impossible. You need every shift to make ends meet, your manager expects you to be reliable, and you know you hate being called in on your day off.
Plus, you’re never the only one that’s down for the count. The tight quarters of a kitchen mean when something’s going around, everybody catches it.
There are some circumstances, though, where pushing through can do more harm than good. If you have the symptoms of a food-borne illness, you pose a risk not just to coworkers but to everyone you serve.
The CDC estimates that every year, 48 million people in the U.S. contract food-borne illness. Of those, 128,000 end up hospitalized, and 3,000 die.
If your place of business primarily serves a highly susceptible population (HSP), the risk of hospitalization or death rises, so it’s especially important to monitor and report any illnesses. This includes hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and day care centers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that food workers take the following measures to protect the public health.
Report diagnosis or exposure to a Big 5 pathogen.
The “Big 5” are highly infectious pathogens that cause severe illness and are transmitted easily by food workers, even when they use proper infection-control precautions.
- Hepatitis A
If you’ve been diagnosed with any of these illnesses or if you discover you’ve been exposed by someone who has, you have to report it to your manager immediately, even if you’re not feeling sick. Your manager is then responsible for ensuring that proper procedure is followed. The measures they’ll take depend on the pathogen, the level of exposure, and the demographic of the public you serve.
Don’t work with vomiting or diarrhea.
You should stop working immediately and report to management if you experience vomiting or diarrhea, since those symptoms can signal a food-borne illness in its most contagious phase.
You shouldn’t report back to work until at least 24 hours after the symptoms have passed.
Report symptoms of jaundice.
If your skin or the whites of your eyes turn yellow, you have jaundice. This could indicate Hepatitis A, one of the Big 5.
If you develop jaundice, bring the condition to the attention of your manager and go to the doctor—there are other things that can cause jaundice, but they are all pretty serious and require medical attention. If you’re jaundiced for more than 7 days, you’ll need health department clearance to get back to work.
Properly cover infected wounds.
If you have infected cuts or sores, particularly on your hands or arms, you need to report this to your manager, then cover the wound with a clean, impermeable bandage. For hand wounds, you should also wear single-use gloves as an extra precaution.
Report a sore throat accompanied by a fever.
If you have a sore throat and a fever at the same time, report this to your manager. They may choose to reassign you to a position that limits potential contagion.
If you work for a facility that serves an HSP, then you’ll need to go home until you’re cleared by a medical professional. Their increased susceptibility to infectious disease means that even a sore throat can represent a hazard.
Keep up-to-date on all food safety training.
Food safety goes beyond controlling your guests’ exposure to contagious food-borne illness. Keep current on your state’s safe handling regulations with convenient and affordable online food handler certification. And if you’re interested in becoming a Food Safety Manager, we can help with that, too!