One Single Foodborne Outbreak Has a Huge Impact On Restaurants, Study Shows

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Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have published their study in the journal Public Health Reports, after completing several computer simulations on foodborne illness outbreaks and their consequences on a restaurant.

One single outbreak will make the restaurant lose millions of dollars due to lost revenue, lawsuits, fines, legal fees, inspection costs, loss of staff and retraining others and so on.

The model in the computer simulation used as an example a fast food restaurant with a minimum of damage: the simulation showed the business would have to pay $4,000 for the outbreak, after getting 5 people sick – and the consequences like the loss in revenue, lawsuits, legal fees or fines were not applied. But if it gets 250 people sick from a single foodborne illness and all the above consequences are incurred, the business could pay up to $1.9 million!

The CDC estimates that there are 48 million people every year that reported getting sick from food poisoning, 128,000 were hospitalized and 3,000 have died because of the illnesses.

Listeria, Norovirus, Hepatitis A, E. Coli, Salmonella

The model on the computer simulation used four types of restaurant: fast food, fast casual, casual and fine dining, estimating different costs for 15 foodborne pathogens that have caused such outbreaks in a 5-year time period (2010 – 2015).

Some of the pathogens used for simulations were listeria, norovirus, hepatitis A, E. coli and salmonella, each outbreak having a different impact on the restaurant, financially speaking.

Bruce Y. Lee, MD, MBA, executive director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) at the Bloomberg School stated:

“Many restaurants may not realize how much even just a single foodborne illness outbreak can cost. Paying for and implementing proper infection control measures should be viewed as an investment to avoid these costs which can top a million dollars. Knowing these costs can help restaurants know how much to invest in such safety measures.”

For example, a fast food that infects 250 people with listeria could lose about $2.5 million. And the loss will continue, for example, in 2003, Chi-Chi’s restaurant went bankrupt and closed their restaurants in the U.S and Canada because of a hepatitis A outbreak. In the last ten years, a lot of national restaurant chains had to close because of similar outbreaks.

It’s Easy to Prevent Foodborne Outbreaks

Sarah M. Bartsch, lead author of the study and research associate at the Global Obesity Prevention Center says that there are simple and cost-effective solutions:

“Prevention measures can be simple, like implement adequate food safety staff training for all restaurant employees and apply sufficient sick leave policies, and can potentially avoid substantial costs in the event of an outbreak.”

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Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.


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