Remember the story of Typhoid Mary? It happened so long ago, we forget the implications. Mary Mallon was a carrier of the pathogen that causes typhoid fever. She never contracted the illness, but did pass it on to others over a period of several years in the early 1900s. She was neither the only known carrier nor the ‘worst’ one in history, but her name is the most often remembered. It was not her fault that she was a carrier, but many suffered the consequences.
Let’s skip forward to 2013. According to Food Safety News (http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2014/01/neverending-salmonella-woman-tests-positive-for-9-months/#.UuucV42A3rc) Mari Haughey contracted Salmonella Gatroenteritis at a Las Vegas restaurant in April of 2013. Having recovered from the illness, she continued to carry the pathogen for nine months until testing negative for it on January 22. The testing continued until a negative result was obtained. Mari and her employer were aware of the hazards. Her work duties were changed to minimize contact with patients. This case is different from Mary Mallon because Mary was never ill from the Salmonella and Mari was quite stricken.
What we should be reminded of is the importance of restricting work when food handlers are ill and in some cases, even beyond the time when illness symptoms have gone. It is not known if Mari passed the illness to anyone inadvertently. Because of her training as a nurse, she likely was more cautious than most people would have been. As responsible food safety professionals, we need to ensure food handlers are just as cautious. Work restrictions are not punishments for the worker. They are essential public health actions. The nature and duration of those restrictions will most often be management judgment calls based on education and risk. These actions must be supplemented with continual efforts toward appropriate hygiene training, especially hand washing. We can only achieve and ensure public health through appropriate precautions at home and in the work place. Training, refresher training and leading by example are essential.