Anatomy of a Foodborne Illness Complaint, Part 4: Outbreak

It's unsettling to think that food served from a restaurant can lead to hundreds of people getting ill and possibly dying, but it happens more often then we would like to admit. It can be the result of untrained or sick employees, serving contaminated products or an overall lack of respect for food safety. A restaurant's involvement in an outbreak can be devastating. It often starts with 1 or 2 phone calls from sick customers. This doesn't seem too alarming since complaints occasionally come from customers, but nothing ever resulted in a confirmed foodborne illness. However, in an outbreak, there could be more calls coming into the health department at the same time. The health department … [Read more...]

Sproutrage 2012: Do Raw Sprouts Belong on the Menu?

  The recent and prolific sprout outbreaks that have plagued Jimmy John’s customers have certainly caused a stir in the restaurant community. Should sprouts remain on the menu? Jimmy John’s, Jason’s Deli and Erbert & Gerbert’s Sandwich Shop apparently all pulled raw sprouts off the menu because of these recent outbreaks. Wal-Mart made the decision in 2010 not to carry them. Should all food establishments follow their lead? Sprouts and Foodborne Illness Sprouts have a long and rich history with foodborne illness (http://bites.ksu.edu/sprouts-associated-outbreaks). Racking up 55 outbreaks in 14 years, sickening 15,000 and killing dozens makes them quite formidable. However, there are … [Read more...]

Anatomy of a Foodborne Illness Complaint, Part 3: Confirmed Cases

If you have a customer with a confirmed foodborne illness, the local health department will probably visit you. A case is confirmed when a stool sample from an infected person is cultured and the harmful bacteria is found. This process can take a few days. When there is a confirmed case, the health department is contacted and they begin an investigation to try and determine the source of the infection. Many questions are asked of the infected person, including about where they ate. If there are restaurants involved, they will look at the timeline and try and guess which ones could be the source. Some can be ruled out, and others may need further investigation. This may lead them to your … [Read more...]

Anatomy of a Foodborne Illness Complaint, Part 2: False Accusations

  How do you spot a false foodborne illness complaint? Oftentimes, this can be very difficult to see. There are generally two main types of false complaints—one from someone who is really ill but didn't get sick from your restaurant and one that comes from a dishonest customer who just wants to extort money. Make sure you ask the right questions. Use the Foodborne Illness Report (also found in the Manager's Toolbox) to help you, and look for the signs. There are some common signs, and a fair amount of research may need to be done before you can make the determination that a claim is false. Common Signs of a False Foodborne Illness Complaint The signs listed here aren't true in every … [Read more...]

Anatomy of a Foodborne Illness Complaint, Part 1: Planning

  Every restaurant should have a plan for handling complaints. Most of these plans lay out what the manager needs to do in the name of customer service. This usually consists of having a game plan for retaining the complainant as a customer. The end result might be comping a meal, sending out coupons, or inviting the customer back to prove that you can give them a good experience in your establishment. Most establishments train their employees on this all the time. Foodborne illness complaints are completely different. There still is the element of customer service, but dealing with an angry sick person has its own set of rules. A simple coupon for a free dessert probably won't cut it. … [Read more...]

Anatomy of a Foodborne Illness Complaint: Introduction

  Restaurants deal with complaints every day. Customers complain about customer service, wait times, food quality, prices, and more. What happens when the dreaded phone call comes in about a foodborne illness complaint? This can be the most difficult type of complaint to handle because the average manager doesn't have adequate knowledge about pathogens involved, incubation periods, symptoms, testing procedures, or appropriate costs associated with such a case. So what is the best procedure for handling an illness complaint? For the most part, the general public is largely uneducated about this topic as well. People are likely to blame the last place they ate rather than using the time … [Read more...]

The War on Foodborne Illness: Why Restaurants Need to Join the Fight

Headlines about another restaurant involved in an outbreak are almost a daily occurrence now. Many major restaurant chains have had at least one outbreak. Foodborne illness from restaurants in this country is reaching new heights. It begs the question, Why? In my experience working with the restaurant industry as a regulator, I come across some resistance from operators who are naïve about their chances of contributing to an outbreak. They simply don’t think it will ever happen to them. Many people took notice of the impact of foodborne illness when headlines reported on the Jack in the Box outbreak of 1993. That outbreak resulted in 750 children poisoned with 4 dying. In this case, E. … [Read more...]