Restaurant Startup Tip: Keep sick employees away from your kitchen

One Fat Frog is very concerned with proper food safety. In part it’s because of our great respect for the food service industry. In part it’s because we eat out at restaurants, too, so we want to make sure we’re eating safe food. That’s why we host ServSafe classes right here at the One Fat Frog office. And it’s why we share tips like this one.

Care to guess the leading cause of food-borne illness? It’s not employees not properly washing their hands. It’s not improper sanitation of equipment. It’s not getting tainted food from your suppliers. It’s not even employees doing splits on your prep tables.

We clean our equipment before shipping
We clean our equipment before shipping

According to a recent study by the Minnesota Department of Health, the leading cause of food-borne illness at restaurants is sick restaurant employees in the kitchen.

Sick employees are full of germs that they spread through coughing, sneezing and more. It’s why state safety standards say to keep all sick employees out of the kitchen. It’s why every restaurant has a rule for anyone who’s ill to stay home. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t always happen.

A recent study by the Journal of Food Protection found that almost 60% of food service workers have worked in the restaurant kitchen while stick. Most of the time they did so without notifying management that they were sick. Why? Simple. If they don’t come into work, they don’t get paid, so employees have an economic incentive to come in while sick and put everyone’s food at risk.

While it’s understandable that restaurant employees don’t want to miss out on pay, your restaurant needs to have a zero-tolerance policy on this. That means not being lenient just because someone needs money; if they’re sick, they can’t be anywhere near the food. It might also mean taking away that incentive. One idea would be to still pay your employee while they are out sick as long as they can produce a doctor’s note. Think you can’t afford to pay your employees while they’re out sick? Think you can afford all of your customers to spend the night hugging porcelain after eating at your restaurant?