Foodborne illness outbreaks can cause severe sickness, and in some cases even death, not to mention widespread panic throughout affected communities. Between 2009 and 2015 alone, more than 100,000 people were reported as having some type of foodborne illness, with nearly 6,000 of them needing to be admitted into a hospital and 145 confirmed deaths. According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common pathogens encountered were norovirus, Escherichia coli (STEC), listeria, and salmonella, found mostly in chicken, pork, seeded vegetables, fish, and dairy – each common components of a typical healthy diet found in most hospital kitchens. However, one of the most important reasons these, and other, outbreaks were not able to claim even more lives, is because there was a safe place for the infected to go and receive life-saving treatment. As pillars of the community, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities, must be prepared for, and well-equipped to handle such emergencies. Are you ready for a foodborne illness outbreak? To help ensure that you are, the Michigan State University culinary team, and the Office of the University Physician, have a few valued suggestions.
Do everything you can to keep things running as smoothly as possible. Continue to adhere to your normal food-handling safety protocols, and do the best you can to keep your patients and guests well informed, whether that means having someone to answer questions, or referring people to other appropriate resources. Communication is key, and making sure your team is up-to-date on the status of the situation will ensure that you are able to reduce the effects of a foodborne illness outbreak.
Set Clear Expectations
You should already have recall and withdraw protocols in place in the event an unexpected outbreak were to occur, but you must also remember to share these procedures with your suppliers, dining managers, directors, administrative managers, and communications staff as well. Merely making sure that you have a step-by-step plan in place to combat a foodborne illness outbreak is not enough. You must also ensure that every person is on the same page, so that everyone is prepared to react to the outbreak at a moment’s notice.
Staying One Step Ahead
If you are truly prepared, and your team is ready for any outbreak emergency, you will be able to reserve your focus for staying one step ahead of the situation. This includes utilizing your public relations and communications teams, as well as any other reliable contacts you have, to keep yourself and your staff informed of all the latest news and information. It also means having planned statements, and prepared talking points, ready to go in the event that you must address the public directly, and monitoring how the public reacts to your organization and the actions you take to address the outbreak. Having a comprehensive view of the situation from as many angles as possible will allow you to make informed, on-the-fly decisions in regards to how you not only navigate that particular outbreak, but all others in the future.