AC Alert for June 12, 2012 They Can't Afford To Take A Sick Day. Can We Afford That?

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - 4:55pm

CONTENT: Newsletter

We've all seen it happen many times. A colleague comes to work, hacking, wheezing, coughing, and sneezing. You do everything you can to keep your distance, in an attempt not to catch whatever they have. You mumble under your breath that she / he should have stayed home so as not to infect others. The damage in such a situation usually is limited to the spread of a cold or infection among others with whom the worker comes into contact.

However, what happens when that "infected" worker is someone who works in the food industry? Now the potential for spreading disease is multiplied many times over -- throughout their work day. It would be easy to place blame on the worker who became ill and still came to work, but a recent survey indicates that many workers in such a situation have no choice but to work -- since they can't afford to take a sick day.

This report on National Public Radio (NPR) caught our attention:  "A coalition of food labor groups says [it] happens a lot, and they blame the lack of paid sick days for people who pick, process, sell, cook and serve food. That's the word from the Food Chain Workers Alliance; their report says that more than half of all food workers come to work sick because they can't afford to take a day off.

"In their survey of employees and employers, the Alliance found that only 13.5 percent of workers earn 'livable wages.' The rest receive below minimum wage or low wages, and have little or no access to paid sick days and health benefits.

"Only 21 percent of the workers surveyed said they could take a paid sick day. That has serious consequences for consumers, the group says, who are put at increased risk of foodborne illness when sick workers touch their food. The study was based on about 700 surveys and interviews with workers and employers in food production, processing, distribution, retail and service. Some food service workers — like those who work in freezers all day — say that the work itself often makes them sick.

"According to the most recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, one out of six Americans gets sick from food, leading to 125,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. About 20 percent of food borne illness outbreaks can be traced to an ill food worker, according to the CDC."

There's much more that you should read on the NPR web site - including information about Olive Gardens and Quiznos restaurants and recent food borne illness outbreaks, and what the workers' organization and the restaurant employers' associations have to say.

(Report Source: NPR)

There are complex issues involved -- workers and their organizations focused on what they believe and their rights; their employers, looking to avoid mandates and suggesting flexible schedules are the answer; municipal leaders, concerned about both workers (their voters) and food safety; and food consumers who are becoming more knowledgeable about food borne illnesses and food safety overall.  In recent years we've seen incidents of food-borne illness from common foods such as cantaloupes, eggs, spinach, tomatoes, ground beef, peanut butter, candy, pet food, and cookie dough

The nearly weekly investigations and recalls of various foods items from the USA and abroad created ever- mounting  pressure on the US Congress to take action -- and also prompted AC Editors to initiate a Hot Topic section several years ago  -- Focus on Food Safety.

In our monitoring we're seeing increased pressure to address the labor side of the equation: Are we endangering the safety of our food by not providing workers with adequate pay or sick time.

Food, trust and provider accountability -- the three terms clearly go together. We consume food hundreds, even thousands of miles from its origination.  With food and anything we put in our bodies - trust is everything!  We're increasingly concerned about where food came from -- beginning with the grower and farmer and planter to food processor to retailer or food service or restaurant…and then to each of us – there is a clear chain of accountability. Trust is the important foundation all along the human food chain. And preserving trust should be an imperative for every player -- that's good business, and the way to create a sustainable food chain.

The AC Hot Topic Focus on Food Safety is designed to present timely and useful news and information, a range of commentary, and reports on research and food safety topics. Here are some recent excerpts which we think you will find of interest taken from this special Hot Topic Section:

USDA plans to let chicken plants run faster with fewer inspectors
(Source: Los Angeles Times) As part of President Obama's push to streamline regulations on businesses, the US Department of Agriculture plans to let chicken slaughterhouses run production lines faster and with fewer federal inspectors, angering food safety advocates and poultry plant workers.

Judge orders FDA to revisit decision not to ban some antibiotics in animal feed
(Source: The Washington Post) A federal court has ordered the US Food and Drug Administration to revisit its decision not to ban the use of certain antibiotics in animal feed and criticized the agency for relying on industry to voluntarily limit the use of these drugs.

Disney to banish junk-food ads from kid shows
(Source: Bloomberg Business Week) The Walt Disney Company says it will become the first major media company to ban junk food ads for its TV channels, radio stations and websites intended for children.

Safety of US fruits and vegetables reinforced
(Source: Southwest Farm Press) The release of the Department of Food and Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program results should reinforce to consumers that both conventional and organic fruits and vegetables are being grown in an extremely safe manner.

Lab warned of Salmonella risk before massive egg recall
(Source: MSNBC) Newly released records show that an Iowa State University scientist found evidence that sick hens at farms owned by an Iowa egg producer were almost certainly laying eggs contaminated with salmonella months before one of the nation's largest outbreaks of food-borne illness came to light. The laboratory reported the results to the producer who had requested the tests, but scientists say they had no legal or ethical obligation to alert regulators or consumers.

Kraft risks being left out of recycling loop after rejecting EPR call
(Source: Food Production Kraft Foods’ refusal to adopt a policy on extended producer responsibility (EPR) for its US packaging operations is likely causing millions of dollars of post-consumer waste ending up in landfill, said a shareholder advocacy group as it warned the move would weaken the firm's ability to influence any future rules on the issue.

This is just a sampling of the information in our Alert. Go here for the full text of this alert, and more information on Sustainability, and other Accountability related topics.