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Restaurant workers often handle food while ill: study

Should the chef be handling your food today?

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Cooks are a tough breed. Splashed with hot oil? No problem, just keep on frying. Cut off the fleshy part of a fingertip? The most hard-core of the bunch have been known to cauterize knife wounds with a cast-iron pan and then get back to chopping.

So in the hardened kitchen environment, calling in a sick day is like announcing you still wet the bed. But from a diner's perspective, how would you feel if you knew the cook who prepared your eggs this morning was struggling to keep from throwing up and had a vicious case of the runs?

One in eight restaurant workers has shown up for duty in the past year while suffering from diarrhea or vomiting, according to a U.S. study published in the February issue of the Journal of Food Protection.

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About 12 per cent of the nearly 500 food workers surveyed said they'd worked through such symptoms on two or more shifts in the previous year. The main reasons cited for working while sick included getting slammed with a high volume of meals and not wanting to leave their co-workers stranded, a lack of policies requiring workers to report illnesses to managers and a lack of on-call workers who could fill in.

The study also found that males were more likely to work while ill, which the researchers noted was consistent with previous findings that show men are more likely to engage in unsafe food handling behaviours than women.

The study suggested that restaurant policies that encourage workers to tell managers when they're ill could ease some of the pressure on workers. But can the introduction of protocols really change kitchen culture?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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