Safety first

A line cooks comes to work looking very pale. He says he has a minor case of the flu, but upon hearing his symptoms you send him to see a doctor. You are notified the next day that he has Hepatitis A. What do you do?

Every restaurant hopes it will never have to deal with contagious diseases or foodborne illnesses, but it's crucial to be prepared. Have a plan and policy in place, so that if a crisis arises, you can deal with it professionally.

The reality is that you're dealing with two disasters: the spread of a disease or illness within the restaurant and community, and the spread of panic and fear among staff and guests. The best way to prevent and/or control both? Education. There are many great information sources out there, but it's most effective to find and use them before you need them.

Start with medical community, the health department and restaurant associations, who provide pamphlets, hot line phone numbers, articles, and even suggestions about putting together a training course or sanitation program.

Many operations are now following HAACP guidelines, that focus on preventative measures rather than corrective procedures when handling foodborne illnesses. And many states now have laws that require at least one person in every foodservice facility be certified in food safety. It won't be long before all states have similar laws on the books. Having a certified employee or manager is technical compliance with the law. Compliance means nothing unless you educate and train all your employees on the importance of proper food safety and handling. Look for programs that will help you accomplish real results.

Programs such as ServSafe teach employees about proper food handling, food delivery tracking and date monitoring, food storage and preparation, proper maintenance and cleaning of equipment and restaurant facilities, and employee hygiene.

With the help of legal counsel, draft a policy statement outlining your company's position on the prevention of contagious diseases and foodborne illnesses. It should address issues such as when an employee should inform management of a diagnosis, who they should contact within your organization, confidentiality, and handling media exposure. We've outlined some suggested first steps for drafting your policy.

Finally, share your policy and the information you've gathered with your staff. Operators who discuss the issue of contagious diseases and the spread of foodborne illness with their employees, and spend the time and resources to develop training programs and company policies, have seen positive results. Not only do proactive measures reduce the number possible illnesses, they provides your employees and guests with a greater peace of mind and sense of security.

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