Your employee's sandwich is a death trap

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Upon receiving the early morning text/email/phonecall from an employee who says they won’t be in due to food poisoning, your kneejerk reaction may be to roll your eyes.

Yet according to the Australian Food Safety Information Council, food poisoning is much more common than many employees think – and it could be unsafe food practices at work that caused it in the first place. Food poisoning results in an average of 120 deaths annually, 1.2 million visits to doctors, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics, and 2.1 million days of lost work each year. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning in Australia is $1.25 billion.

Council Chairman, Dr Michael Eyles, said although some results from the latest Newspoll Food Safety Attitude and Behaviour Survey identified a minor improvement in standards, almost a tenth of adult Australian workers who take a packed lunch admit they make no attempt to cool it through the use of office refrigerators or cooler boxes – even on the very warmest of days. “Perishable food becomes unsafe to eat if in the temperature danger zone (5°C- 60°C) for 4 hours − about the time between leaving home and lunchtime!,” Eyles said

The Council’s advice line indicates that those who don’t use the workplace fridge have their reasons, feeling it is more of an incubator of food disasters rather than the clean, well packed, below 5°C environment it should be.

Office managers must step up and ensure workplace fridges are clean and cleared of ageing food, and be running at 5°C or below.

The council suggest workplaces should begin the working year by everyone getting together to clean out the fridge and giving it at least one owner – a person responsible for setting up a workplace roster for keeping fridges and kitchens clean. Pens and labels should be available for people to label containers with name and date.

“Employers can assist by making refrigerators and coolers are available and in good order. Handwashing soap and drying facilities should be made available in kitchens and handwashing posters put up. This could lead to a reduction in sick leave, not just from food poisoning but also viruses such as norovirus and influenza which are currently taking a toll in the Northern Hemisphere.

Importantly, in the event of food poisoning, workers should avoid handling food for others until 48 hours after symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea stop. If food poisoning symptoms persist, visit a doctor, Dr Eyles said.

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