How to handle a foodborne illness outbreak


The E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce that occurred this spring proves how widespread and severe foodborne illnesses can be. FoodService Director talked with Michigan State University’s culinary team and the Office of the University Physician to learn how operators can effectively handle a foodborne illness outbreak. Read on for their advice. 

Photos courtesy of Pixabay

Reducing the effects

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Q: Are there any preventive measures operators can take to help lessen the impact of foodborne illnesses?

A: Continuing to abide by safe food-handling practices is a key measure. Additionally, educating frontline staff on how to answer customer questions or refer them to the appropriate contact is important to keeping guests informed. Team members should also receive regular communications to ensure they are updated on the status of the outbreak and any developments that may occur as the procurement team monitors news from regulatory agencies.

Setting expectations


Q: Do you have any tips for working with food suppliers when an outbreak occurs?

A: Share your recall and withdraw procedures with suppliers so they’re aware of the protocol in advance. Discuss expectations of the respective parties as well to be proactive and prepared in the event of an outbreak.


Staying a step ahead

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Q: Are there any other best practices to keep in mind when dealing with a foodborne illness outbreak?

A: Establish a thorough recall and withdraw plan to share with all entities involved, including dining managers, administrative managers, communications staff, directors and suppliers. It’s also vital to keep your team updated throughout the process. We’ve established a valuable partnership with the university sanitarian, who is often our connection to state government, the health department and other key organizations as we monitor the situation for up-to-date status. Utilize your communications or public relations team as well to prepare talking points and statements for public-facing outlets and inquiries. Lastly, monitor Consumer Reports and news outlets to help gauge public opinion of the relevant actions taken by your organization to address the outbreak.

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