More than half of all food workers come to work sick, an alarming study has recently revealed.
The analysis was conducted in July by the Center for Research and Public Policy, across U.S. and Canada. It had been commissioned by Alchemy Systems, a consulting company whose aim is to help ensure better quality standards in the U.S. food industry.
According to Alchemy CEO Jeff Eastman, the purpose of the survey was to gain insight into the daily patterns and struggles of food workers. Researchers polled approximately 1,200 staff members across the food supply chain, who were employed at restaurants, cafeterias, farms, grocery stores and processing plants.
It was determined that a staggering 51% of all respondents went to work when sick, every single time or on numerous occasions.
45% of them admitted they were obliged to do this because otherwise they would lose payment for that day. Moreover, over 46% of the subjects claimed they felt responsible to show up, so as not to inconvenience their co-workers.
On the other hand, food executives had answered that only around 18% of their staff normally goes to work when feeling unwell.
These findings are extremely worrying, given the impact that food industry workers have, when it comes to spreading disease among the general public.
For example, last year the overwhelming majority of norovirus cases that have been reported were linked to foodborne disease clusters involving such employees.
Also, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, more than half of all documented food-related viral outbreaks are linked to products that have been unsafely handled by infected food workers.
In fact, 82% of these dangerous viruses are spread because of food industry employees, whose financial constraints impede them from taking days off.
It’s even more disconcerting given the fact that few food handlers are actually aware of the consequences of recklessly going to work when sick.
The study has shown that one third of the subjects hadn’t been aware that their germs might be contagious to clients and customers. In fact, a mere 5% of them declared that they had always chosen to stay home and nurse their colds, so as not to put others at risk.
“The food industry faces a significant challenge to ensuring food workers are educated and aware of the impact of coming to work sick”, declared the survey makers.
According to Jose Oliva, co-director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, this issue isn’t as black and white as it might seem.
Although it might be easy to accuse food industry employees of indiscriminately spreading contagious diseases without any concern for the customers, many of these workers actually rely on every day’s wage for their survival.
Study findings from 2012 have shown that 79% of food-service staff aren’t provided with paid sick leave, or are unaware of such benefits. Another survey conducted in Philadelphia pointed out that the workers also fear being fired or penalized for failing to report to duty as expected.
Moreover, as revealed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these employees have some of the lowest paid jobs in the United States, often earning just the minimum wage.
It is expected that with higher remuneration and greater worker protection they would be less reluctant to take time off when their health demands it.
Recently, legislation offering paid sick leaves has been introduced in 4 U.S. states: California, Oregon, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Also, under a new executive order signed by President Obama on Labor Day, federal contractors must provide their employees with up to 7 days of paid sick leave every year.
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