How Restaurants Can Protect Against Foodborne Illness, A Multimillion Dollar Risk


How Much Do Foodborne Illnesses Cost Restaurants?

An outbreak of food poisoning or foodborne illness that affects their patrons can cost restaurants anywhere from a few thousand dollars in legal expenses, fines, lost business and higher insurance premiums to as much as $2 million or more. In the worst cases, the costs can be even higher and the consequences, irreversible.

A new study Estimated Cost to a Restaurant of a Foodborne Illness Outbreak, by Sarah M. Bartsch, Lindsey Asti, Sindiso Nyathi, Marie L. Spiker and Bruce Y. Lee of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – used a series of simulations based on 15 different pathogens that caused foodborne illnesses from 2010 – 2015 to model the potential financial impact of a range of such incidents on various types of restaurants, including fast-food, fast casual, casual dining and fine dining 

Among its conclusions: a minimum investment in online training, sanitation, and employee illness policies to safeguard against such outbreaks could ultimately save a restaurant millions of dollars in losses arising from an outbreak.

Government studies reaffirm the issue as well. The Centers for Disease Control reports nearly 48 million people become sick each year as a result of foodborne illness, including some 128,000 who are hospitalized and 3,000 deaths.

So How Can Restaurants Mitigate Food Contamination and Illness?

With respect to food contamination and foodborne illness, an ounce of prevention is indeed worth well over a pound of cure. Restaurants should follow industry food safety guidelines, such as those provided by the National Restaurant Association and state health departments. Some basic measures restaurants can take to safeguard against foodborne illnesses and their consequences include:

Proper Training for Food Safety and Hygiene is a Must

Provide ongoing employee training with respect to safe food refrigeration, storage, preparation and handling, as well as appropriate hygiene; make sure all new employees receive the training before they begin working in the restaurant.

If employees are sick, require them to stay home when they have communicable illnesses, such as stomach flu or intestinal virus, that might be spread to patrons.


Monitor Your Food Supply Chain

Understand your entire food supply chain; know all your vendors and check on the measures they take to ensure food safety.  By knowing all your vendors, it will enable you to act swiftly to remove any potentially contaminated foods from your inventory in the event of an incident at any point in your supply chain that leads to a recall.

Regularly Make Sure Your Food Supply Hasn’t Spoiled

Conduct frequent food safety inspections at your restaurant, be diligent about every aspect of sanitation and pest control, and comply fully with all state, local and federal regulatory requirements.


Prepare for a Foodborne Illness Complaint

Have a detailed plan in place to handle and investigate any complaints by patrons who believe they have become ill from food they consumed or obtained at your establishment.


  • Alert patrons about food safety, refrigeration, storage and preparation with respect to any food takeout or leftovers they take home with them.


  • Develop a crisis management plan to deal with an outbreak that affects your restaurant or any vendors that are part of your supply chain; practice, test, and update it regularly to make sure employees know how to respond.


  • Check how your liability insurance will respond to an incident involving a foodborne illness and work with your insurance advisor to make sure you have adequate protection.


Get Help Protecting Your Restaurant Against Foodborne Illness

For assistance in developing a plan to protect your restaurant against exposures related to foodborne illness, including cost-effective online training and tailored insurance coverages, contact Restaurant Programs of America at 866-577-7007.