When should a child care worker with a foodborne illness stay home?

Employees can be infectious even if they are not showing symptoms.

Did you know that infants and toddlers are in one of the highest risk groups to being susceptible to illness, including foodborne illness? This means that we must handle their food safely to prevent them from becoming sick. Symptoms of foodborne illness can vary from mild to severe – and with their weak immune systems, something that would not affect an adult can make a child severely ill.

Pathogens that cause illness can be transmitted to children in many ways – not just by handling food. For this reason, the child care worker should be excluded from work if they have symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, jaundice, or have an illness that can be passed on to children through person to person contact. If an employee is having symptoms like nausea or vomiting from a non-communicable condition, such as morning sickness from a pregnancy, then this is a situation where it would be safe for them to work. 

When foodborne illness symptoms resolve, the risk of transmission decreases. However, employees can be infectious for a longer period than just when they show symptoms. If the employee has e. coli, salmonella typhi (which can cause typhoid fever) or the hepatitis A virus, these can lead to severe symptoms, that may keep them from work for a longer period to protect the health of the children. A physician would need to clear a worker with a foodborne illness in order to return to work. Keep in mind that many times, people are symptomatic, but do not go to a doctor, so even if a case is not documented, the employee should be excluded.

There are other diseases as well, not related to foodborne illnesses, that may be just cause for an employee to stay home. It is a best practice to have a policy on employee illnesses. Don’t wait until they have symptoms and you are facing a crisis, but be pro-active so good decisions can be made for those in your care. 

Visit the Fight Bac website to find out more on safe practices for child care. Michigan State University Extension has food safety programs that can educate you on handling food safely, for more information about a program near you contact your local MSU Extension county office.

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