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One Foodborne Illness Can Cost Your Operation Millions

November 13, 2019

Original content c/o: National Restaurant Association

Cost of food safety training is a bargain in comparison.

Wonder how much a foodborne illness outbreak could cost your restaurant? The amount you spend could range from thousands to literally millions of dollars, especially when lawsuits and reputational damage are in the mix.


Here’s where some of the money goes if an outbreak is traced to your operation:

  • Business lost closing your restaurant to clean and sanitize it.
  • Business lost waiting for the health department to approve reopening.
  • Throwing out all potentially contaminated food and restocking.
  • Lab testing to ensure the location is safe for business.
  • Marketing and advertising costs you’ll need to spend to repair your business’s reputation.
  • Dealing with potential backlash related to attacks on social media.
  • Health-code violation fines, lawsuits, and legal fees.
  • Higher insurance premiums.
  • Medical bill coverage for affected guests.

Recovering from the damage is much more costly than creating and enforcing a good food-safety management program in your establishment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 48 million people get sick from a food-related illness every year; 128,000 are hospitalized and about 3,000 die.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health used computer simulations in a 2018 study to figure the potential costs of a single incidence of foodborne illness. They studied four kinds of restaurants and where the illness affected groups ranging from five to 250 people. The high end of each cost range reflects legal fees, lawsuits, and fines.

Cost of a foodborne illness outbreak:

Fast food:  $3,968 to $1.9 million

Fast casual:  $6,330 to $2.1 million

Casual dining:  $8,030 to $2.2 million

Fine dining:  $8,273 to $2.6 million

The study estimated costs associated with 15 foodborne pathogens over a five-year period, from 2010 to 2015. Five pathogens -- listeria, norovirus, hepatitis A, E. coli and salmonella -- cause 95% of foodborne illnesses, according to a USDA research study.

“Many restaurateurs don’t know or understand that even a single outbreak could be catastrophic to their business,” says William Weichelt, director of the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe food-safety training program. “Investing in proper safety controls that help you avoid illness outbreaks is good for your guests and employees, as well as your bottom line.”

Weichelt also advised following these three food-safety rules:

  1. Don’t permit sick employees to return to work until they’re completely recovered and cleared by a doctor.
  2. Invest in ServSafe training programs, which teach proper food safety techniques and best practices.
  3. Insist employees follow proper hygiene and handwashing protocols.

Find out more about our ServSafe food safety training program.