Restaurant workers show up sick
February 17th, 2011
12:32 PM ET

Restaurant workers show up sick

One out of eight restaurant workers has come to work at least twice in the past year while suffering from diarrhea or vomiting, according to a new survey of workers in nine states.

That’s 12% of all workers, an increase over the 5% of workers found in previous studies, according to study author Dr. Steven Sumner, the study’s lead author and a resident in internal medicine at Duke University Hospital. The study is published in The Journal of Food Protection.

One reason workers work while vomiting or experiencing diarrhea is many restaurants don’t have paid sick leave, so if a worker stays home, he or she doesn’t get paid.

The National Restaurant Association has fought required paid sick leave. In a statement to CNN, the association said, “There is no greater priority for the restaurant industry than food safety.”

It didn’t matter much whether the restaurant was fast food or sit-down, whether the workers spoke English, whether a chain or independent, or whether the food was American or ethnic.

Busier restaurants – those that served more than 300 meals on a busy day - were more likely to have workers that worked sick.

"It may be if you're working in a busy place your manager is less likely to send you home, or you may feel bad to leave your coworker stranded on a busy shift," Sumner said.

Sick workers can infect restaurant patrons by touching food or utensils without first washing their hands.

Foodborne illness kills 5,000 people annually, according to the study authors, and sickens some 76 million.

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