Please, whether it is for moral or business reasons, offer hepatitis A vaccinations to your employees.

In January the Roanoke Times reported that owners of Famous Anthony’s filed bankruptcy for two of their Roanoke five restaurant locations after a hepatitis A outbreak originating from one of their food service workers killed four people, hospitalized 36, sickened 52, with one requiring a liver transplant.

A food service worker who worked at three locations — Grandin Road Extension, Williamson Road and Crystal Spring Avenue — tested positive for the hepatitis a virus and contaminated customers with the fecal virus. Throughout September and October, 52 cases were confirmed to be connected to the outbreak.

Over the last decades I have advocated for vaccinating food services workers primarily due to the tragic toll that it takes on customers and their families, but clearly sickening 52, hospitalizing 36 and killing 4 of your customers is bad for business.

Today, Roanoke Valley health officials issued an alert following a new report about an employee at a Star City restaurant being infected with hepatitis A.

The Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts (RCHAD) says the report came in on Monday, May 23 involving an employee at Tuco’s Taqueria Garaje in the 400 block of Salem Avenue in Roanoke.

According to the RCAHD, an environmental health team was dispatched to the eatery to conduct a comprehensive inspection and interview key personnel.

Based on the inspection and interviews, health officials say they determined there is no significant risk of exposure to the public since the employee in question did not directly handle any food.

However, given the high level of sensitivity to the current hepatitis A outbreak in the community, the Roanoke City Health Department is offering hepatitis A vaccines, as a precaution, to anyone who ate at Tuco’s Taqueria Garaje between May 3 and May 15.

The hepatitis A vaccines will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Roanoke Health Department on the second floor of 1502 Williamson Road on the following dates:

Thursday, May 26 from 3 to 6 p.m.
Friday, May 27 from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and from 1 to 4 p.m.

This news comes about a week after the health districts announced a potential hepatitis A exposure at Luigi’s Restaurant in Roanoke.

Hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis A virus. Anyone who is not currently vaccinated against hepatitis A is encouraged to get the vaccine, which is available from many healthcare providers, health clinics and local pharmacies and is part of routine childhood vaccination series.

Exposure to hepatitis A virus may occur through direct contact with an infected person or by consuming food or drink that has been contaminated. Symptoms may develop 15 to 50 days following exposure. People are at increased risk if they have been in close and continuous contact with an infected person, particularly in a household or day care setting.

Frequent handwashing with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, changing a diaper or before preparing food can help prevent the spread of hepatitis A. Routine vaccination reduces the risk of this disease and is available to anyone. Virginia has experienced widespread outbreaks of hepatitis A across the Commonwealth, and vaccination is recommended for everyone.

In 2019, I offered any restaurant that agreed to offer hepatitis A vaccines to employees, that I would never sue them – for anything.  No takers to date.  As I said in that post:

In 2000, I wrote this:

In light of the recent, large-scale Hepatitis A exposure in the San Francisco Bay Area, food safety attorneys of the Seattle-based law firm of Marler Clark, are asking restaurants and food manufacturers to voluntarily vaccinate all workers against Hepatitis A. “In the last six months Hepatitis A exposures have been linked to two Seattle-area Subways, a Carl’s Jr. in Spokane, WA, Hoggsbreath, a Minnesota restaurant, and three restaurants in Northwest Arkansas, IHOP, U.S. Pizza, and Belvedeers. Now more than seven- hundred children are being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus in California after possible consumption of contaminated strawberries. Furthermore, this isn’t the first time that strawberries have been implicated in the outbreak of a foodborne disease.” Marler continued, “Restaurants and food manufacturers must take action and voluntarily vaccinate all of their employees.”

Sound familiar?

Hardly a week goes by that there is not yet another announcement of a hepatitis A positive employee putting co-workers, customers and the restaurant brand at risk.  There have been illnesses, deaths, thousands of customers have had to stand in long lines to get preventative vaccines, some restaurants have shuttered and there certainly have been lawsuits.

All preventable by a hepatitis A vaccination – the only foodborne illness that is vaccine preventable.

So, here is my offer – to the first restaurant chain with more that 250 locations (corporate and/or franchise) that will offer hepatitis A vaccinations to all present and future employees and I will agree to consult with that restaurant chain for $1.00 and conflict Marler Clark from being on the opposite side of the courtroom.

This seems like an “offer you can’t refuse.”

Whether or not you take me up on my offer, consider offering to vaccinate your employees anyway – be a food safety leader.  In addition to being the right thing to do during a nation-wide outbreak of hepatitis A, it is good for your employees, your customers, your brand – and, for taking money out of my pocket.