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Top 10 Tips for a Flu-free Operation

Monday, January 26, 2015

The holiday season is, unfortunately, pretty much the cold and flu season too. Make sure your staff and customers stay well by encouraging best practices for healthy food handling.
Sink with running water and pair of soapy hands being thoroughly washed
©iStockphoto.com/Michael Krinke
  1. Wash your hands frequently and sanitize surfaces

  2. Ensure adequate air circulation

  3. Post tips on how to stop the spread of germs

  4. Ensure easy availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizers

  5. Eat sensibly, to help keep your weight—and blood sugar—stable

  6. Exercise whenever and however you can

  7. Try to get as much sleep as possible

  8. Eat immune-boosting foods, like chicken soup!

  9. Avoid drinking too much alcohol

  10. Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water

As if it weren’t hard enough to stay healthy in the high-stress, calories-everywhere world of food service operations, flu season is in full swing—and it’s shaping up to be a doozy, thanks to the 2009 H1N1 flu virus.

Flu, including H1N1, is not a foodborne illness, but it can be transmitted person-to-person in public settings of all kinds, including food service establishments. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ dedicated flu website:

  • Influenza viruses are spread through inhalation or through the touching of contaminated surfaces, then touching of the mouth, nose, or eyes. Transmission of the virus in a food service venue could occur through the normal routes of infection that could happen in any public or private setting—inhalation of the virus expelled by infected individuals when coughing or sneezing or by touching any surface contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.

  • Food service employees or others who handle food who are well, but who have a family member at home who is ill with 2009 H1N1 flu, can go to work as usual. These employees should monitor their health every day, and take everyday precautions, including washing their hands often with soap and water, especially after they cough or sneeze. If they become ill, they should notify their supervisor and stay home.

Like many known viruses, H1N1 can survive on stainless steel surfaces for 24-48 hours, and up to 24 hours when transferred to hands. On cloth, paper, or tissues, it survives 8-12 hours, and up to 15 minutes when transferred to hands.

The most important thing you can do to help prevent the transmission of any illness, including foodborne pathogens such as E. coli within your operation, is to require frequent handwashing and surface sanitization. Wearing gloves alone is not the answer, unless they are changed frequently (i.e., every time hands would otherwise be washed, such as after sneezing or coughing, when moving from handling poultry to handling produce, etc.)

These tactics are considered “best practices” all the time. Flu season represents yet another good reason to review these important procedures. According to the National Restaurant Association, food service businesses should take the following steps to maintain a healthy work environment at all times:

According to a recent survey by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, 81% of employers said their greatest concern about H1N1 flu was employee absenteeism. Employers should take what steps they can to ensure that shifts are covered when workers can’t come in to work because they’re sick—and it’s wise to put a contingency plan in place before anyone catches the flu.

While you’re at it, here are some tips for you to stay healthy overall during the busy holiday season:

  • Eat sensibly, to help keep your weight—and blood sugar—stable

  • Exercise whenever and however you can to keep your energy and mood up, even if it’s just walking from the farthest space in the parking lot

  • Try to get as much sleep as possible, no fewer than seven hours a night and eight if possible

  • Certain foods are believed to help fight illness by boosting the immune system, including yogurt, garlic, oats and barley, fish, tea, beef, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and, yes, chicken soup

  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol, but do drink plenty of water and other hydrating fluids