With an estimated 48 million US citizens alone affected by food-borne diseases each year, the hospitality industry must reconsider its approach to food safety.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans, about 48 million people, suffer from food-borne disease. Of these, it is estimated 128,000 people are hospitalized and around 3,000 die1. In Europe, a 2015 report published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), confirmed a total of 5,196 food-borne and water-borne outbreaks, 43,183 human cases, 5,946 hospitalizations and 11 deaths in 2013 alone.

Accurate figures for food-borne illness in hospitality venues can be difficult to identify as the majority of cases relate to unspecified agents where there is insufficient data. In 2011, the CDC made estimates for two sources of food-borne illnesses. The first group, listing 31 pathogens, accounted for roughly 9.4 million cases annually, and the second group, unspecified agents where there is insufficient data, represented 38.4 million cases.

Without tracked data for the majority of food-borne illness cases, it is impossible to estimate how many of these cases of food-borne disease can be attributed to the hospitality industry. However, between 2009-2012, the CDC has estimated that restaurants accounted for almost two-thirds of norovirus outbreaks, with 70% of cases implicating food handlers. In Europe, 22.2% of outbreaks were associated with restaurants, hotels, cafes, pubs and bars2.

With around 9.5 million workers employed in the US restaurant industry, and 80% of all food service firms employing less than 20 people, it is clear that education is a vital part of the defense against food-borne diseases in the hospitality industry3.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged that often it is not a single issue but a combination of factors that are responsible for illness. In the hospitality sector, food handling errors such as failure to ensure critical procedures (cleaning, separation of raw and cooked meat) are effectively followed, insufficient food safety related record keeping and ineffective training are commonly implicated in food-borne illness. These are often attributed to not only a lack of adequate food safety knowledge, but also to time constraints, lack of resources (e.g. financial, time, supplies, etc.) and behavioral issues, including those related to employee motivation and cultural perceptions of food safe practices.

We all work in a global food supply chain and this creates its own problems. When looking at food safety, it is important to consider the influence of employees’ own cultural background, upbringing, misconceptions and traditions.

Just as the reasons for food-borne disease are often a combination of factors, the answer must also be a combination of approaches. Employee education and mentoring are the key to a safer food culture, but this means more than just box-ticking training. It requires leadership from the top down. High levels of food safety competence must be ingrained in business practices at every level, to create a robust “food safety culture”.

In the 21st century, businesses must acknowledge that inadequate food safety is not just the matter of a sick customer, it will mean the erosion of brand loyalty and reputation and, in an age of social media, that negative message will spread faster than ever.

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Dr Evangelia Komitopoulou
Global Customized Solutions Manager
Food Safety & Quality
t: +44 (0)7824 089985


1 Food Borne Burden
2 EFSA Journal 2015; 13(1): 3991
3 Services Sector Occupational Safety and Health Priorities for the Second Decade of NORA