With the potential for a single foodborne outbreak to result millions of dollars in lost revenue, fines, lawsuits, legal fees, insurance premium increases, inspection costs and staff retraining, all food businesses need to include sanitation procedures as an essential, not as an ‘added cost’.
The cost to a food business of a single foodborne outbreak is much higher than the cost of implementing preventive measures. This is just as true for restaurants and foodservice providers as food and beverage processors.
In a recent study* researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health used computer simulations to look at the consequences of a single foodborne illness outbreak on fast food, fast casual, casual and fine dining restaurants.
The simulation estimated costs of 15 foodborne pathogens including Listeria, norovirus, hepatitis A, E. coli and Salmonella, that caused outbreaks in restaurants from 2010–2015 as reported by the CDC. The model ran several different scenarios to determine the impact level ranging from smaller outbreaks that may incur few costs (no lawsuits and legal fees or fines) to larger outbreaks that incur a high number of lawsuits and legal fees.
They found that there are large, reverberating consequences regardless of the size of the facility and outbreak.
According to the model:
- A fast food restaurant could incur anywhere from $4000 for a single outbreak in which five people get sick (when there is no loss in revenue and no lawsuits, legal fees or fines are incurred) to $1.9 million for a single outbreak in which 250 people get sick (when restaurants loose revenue and incur lawsuits, legal fees and fines).
- A single outbreak of Listeria in fast food and casual-style restaurants could cost upwards of $2.5 million in meals lost per illness, lawsuits, legal fees, fines and higher insurance premiums for a 250-person outbreak. When looking at the same circumstances for fine dining restaurants, $2.6 million in costs were incurred. The subsequent costs of outbreaks can be major setbacks for restaurants and are sometime irreversible.
“Many restaurants may not realise how much even just a single foodborne illness outbreak can cost them and affect their bottom line,” said Bruce Y Lee, MD, MBA, executive director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center at the Bloomberg School. “Paying for and implementing proper infection control measures should be viewed as an investment to avoid these costs, which can top a million dollars. Knowing these costs can help restaurants know how much to invest in such safety measures.”
Food and beverage processors are definitely not immune
A study from the Food Marketing Institute and Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates the average food product recall will have direct costs of $10 million while indirect costs could reach into the hundreds of millions. Automating sanitation procedures can reduce risks for manufacturers.
Benefits of automating sanitation procedures
- Reduction of water usage. Water savings of 30–50% are achievable through improved rinse cycle efficiency and automated water pressure control.
- Reduction in energy costs. Less water usage means less energy is required to heat that water. Add to this the benefits of multistage pumps for full alternation, motors that allow pumps to ramp up and down as needed and flow switches that send pumps into hibernate mode.
- Reduction in chemical and sanitiser usage. Automated sanitation solutions will use cleaning chemicals more efficiently. Automation ensures chemicals are dispensed precisely where they are needed at the correct concentration, without any overspray.
- Reduction in waste management costs. Less water usage means less water going to waste and so less water treatment and fewer chemicals are needed.
- Reduction in labour expenses. Automation should be used to eliminate menial tasks and so the need for people to perform such repetitive menial tasks.
- Consistency. An automated system does the job in the same way every time — it doesn’t cut corners because it wants to get home early, it doesn’t suffer from Mondayitis, it doesn’t ‘forget’ to do the tricky bits. It doesn’t even have holiday entitlements.
- A safer workplace. Tasks, places, chemicals and equipment that present hazards to workers can be automated, making the environment safer for workers.
Yes — implementing automation systems will cost money and if you are going to do it properly you will need to involve experts to ensure the system covers what you want and achieves the appropriate standard of hygiene every time. But anecdotally the story is that facilities which invest in sanitation automation see a return within a year to 18 months. After that the cost savings from automating just continue to accrue.
*‘Estimated Cost to a Restaurant of a Foodborne Illness Outbreak’, written by Sarah M Bartsch, Lindsey Asti, Sindiso Nyathi, Marie L Spiker and Bruce Y Lee, has been published in Public Health Reports.