4 lessons in foodservice illness

When widespread illness hit, this operator acted quickly.

Bianca N. Herron, Digital Editor

food sick gloves

With everything else on an FSD’s plate, sickness might be the last thing they want to consider—especially in the wake of newsworthy cases like Chipotle’s E. coli and norovirus incidents. But this nightmare scenario can become a reality, as John Marshall, director of dining services at the Masonic Home of California, found.

In 2014, nearly a quarter of the 400 residents at the Union City, Calif., retirement community were struck with the stomach flu. Marshall was able to emphasize to his staff the importance of patience and remaining calm while getting through an outbreak. Here are four other lessons he learned.

1. Communicate the game plan

After Marshall and his staff gathered to discuss how they’d handle the problem, the first priority, he says, was to inform residents of the issue and the procedures that would follow. “We sent out a flyer communicating the situation to everyone, as well as calling every resident individually,” he says.

2. Limit contact between staff and residents

To prevent the flu from spreading further among the retirement community, Marshall asked that sick residents stay in their rooms. “We closed all of our dining rooms, served everyone room service three times per day on paper plates and [used] all disposable products so nothing else was spread amongst the residents,” he says. “The staff also wore masks and gloves while serving and busing the rooms.” Some workers still ended up sick and were sent home.

3. All hands on deck

Realizing that an employee could fall ill at any time, it was important to have as many workers on hand as possible, Marshall says. “People were also getting tired of traveling back and forth from our kitchen to patients’ rooms on top of wearing their uniforms with masks, gloves, etc.,” he says. “So it was necessary to have everyone there to help out [and share the tough jobs].”

4. Keep employee morale up

Sometimes it can take a while for outbreaks like these to end—at Masonic Home, it lasted three weeks—and staff morale can quickly decline. “After two weeks, everyone was really tired of the whole thing,” Marshall says. “That’s when we decided to cater lunch, a Mexican deli fiesta and pizza, on different occasions. It wasn’t much, but it made a huge difference in how they felt.”

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