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Is The Flu (Or Another Bug) On Your Menu Today?

Patrick Boshell
January 26, 2016



Everyone loves a great meal–especially when someone else is cooking, serving and doing all your dishes! 


We love to dine out and do it more than ever before. Back in the 1970’s, Americans spent about 36% of their food budget on restaurants and today that number is closer to 48%. The National Restaurant Association reports that the average person purchases a snack or meal from a restaurant 5.8 times a week.



In addition to our expanding budgets and waistlines, a major concern about dining out is food safety. Public dining establishments such as restaurants, bars, cafeterias, and fast food establishments are most often cited for foodborne illness and food-related diseases. The CDC estimates that each year 1 in 6 Americans (approximately 48 million people) become ill, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3000 die as a result of foodborne illnesses.




Hands play an important role in the transmission of infectious diseases in our public and private lives. About 80% of germs are spread by our hands and only about 5% of the population washes their hands correctly. In restaurants, workers are washing their hands less often than what is recommended for food safety best practices, which could cause consumers to become ill.


According to Lisa Mack, a Communicable Disease Investigator, infectious disease transmission can happen in a number of ways including contact with an infectious person, contact with a contaminated object, fecal-oral, droplet, airborne, vector-borne, sexual, and animal to human transmission. Now that flu season is here, there is even more opportunity for disease transmission.


Did you know that studies show the human influenza virus can survive on surfaces for up to 8 hours? In the US, between 5-20% of the population will get the flu and become sick. When you consider that 95% of the population is not washing their hands for the recommended 20 seconds, it is easy to understand why so many of us are getting sick. Even though the CDC recommends flu vaccination as our best defense, it is estimated that 60% of the population is not protected. Even worse, up to 80% of working adults continue to work while sick, which creates the perfect recipe to spread the flu virus and other infectious diseases.




Out of all the foodborne disease outbreaks reported to the CDC from 1998 to 2004, 52% were associated with restaurants or delicatessens including cafeterias and hotels. Even though restaurants are subject to food safety inspections on a regular basis, statistics show that up to 60% have insufficient food hygiene practices. Even if the restaurant demonstrates positive food safety practices, the opportunity for cross-contamination can even come from its patrons.


A constantly touched item in restaurants is the menus. They are not routinely cleaned and present a high contamination risk. One recent study found there was a “measurable transfer of bacteria present on menus to consumer’s hands, and bacteria survived on menus at least 2-days.”  Unfortunately, plastic is an ideal surface for harboring bacteria. A good idea would be to take some hand sanitizer with you and use after you place your order or simply go and wash your hands.




Now, let’s talk about food. You may need to skip the knife and fork either for convenience or preference such as eating in the car, eating between meetings, or in classes. This should not exempt you from practicing the golden rule: wash your hands before eating! No amount of food safety measures will protect you from your dirty fingers–especially if you are eating in pathogen-rich environments. Did you know that your desk is more contaminated than the average toilet seat? In fact, office toilet seats have about 49 germs per square inch compared to desktops at 21,000.


Download Food Service Posters & Resources 

Food Safety News recently published a list of suggestions if utensils are not available and you have to eat with your hands.

1. Wash your hands before eating. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer–especially after you have touched the menu.

2. Hold the food with a wrapper, if provided, or just pick finger-food up with a napkin.

3. Request hand wipes if available.

4. If you cannot wash your hands, try holding the food in one place and then discard that part.

5. Finally, don’t forget to wash your hands after you have eaten because food left on the hands can feed pathogens and make you sick next time.


When it comes to food safety and flu prevention, please make healthy choices and be sure that effective hand hygiene and a little common sense are always on the menu.




Originally published by Infection Control Tips on November 26, 2015:


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