Wendy’s Employee Tests Positive for Hepatitis A, Signaling Danger of Foodborne Illness

A food service worker at a Wendy’s location in Lawrenceville has been diagnosed with Hepatitis A, after working while sick from June 13th through June 29th. In response, the Health Department is urging anyone who ate at the affected location during that time to visit a Health Department office for free testing and, if necessary, immunization. Meanwhile, Wendy’s management has sanitized the restaurant and vaccinated exposed employees.

This incident occurred within days of a nearly identical one in Cartersville, at Willy’s Mexicana Grill, and northwest Georgia as a whole is currently experiencing what the state recognizes as an outbreak, with over 300 reported cases so far. However, no spread of the virus from the Wendy’s location has yet been confirmed.

Hepatitis A Can Be Fatal and Has No Known Treatment

All forms of hepatitis are, by definition, inflammations of the liver. Hepatitis A, B, and C are caused by three separate viruses that behave similarly in some ways. Hepatitis A, unlike B and C, is not chronic and usually does not cause lasting liver damage. However, the symptoms can persist for months, and once the window for vaccination has passed, there’s no treatment but rest and hydration.

After possible hepatitis A exposure, symptoms to watch for include:

  • Digestive issues
  • Fever
  • Unusual urine/stool coloration
  • Fatigue
  • Yellow skin or eyes

In extreme scenarios, usually when the patient has preexisting immune system or liver problems, hepatitis A can cause complete liver shutdown and death.

Poor Hygiene and Unsafe Food Handling Practices Greatly Increase Risk of Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is generally a foodborne illness, although it can also be transmitted through close contact with an infected person, usually a sexual relationship or caregiving scenario. The virus is extremely hardy and able to survive for months without a host. It takes a full minute of cooking at 185 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to completely eradicate the virus using heat.

Because the virus is primarily active in fecal matter, proper food handling techniques can drastically reduce transmission of hepatitis A. Thanks to standard hand washing, sanitization, and cooking standards, most hepatitis-positive food service workers never pass the illness along to a customer. There have been cases, however, where infected individuals following stringent hygiene protocols have still been identified as the most likely source of an outbreak. When food service workers do infect others, dozens or even hundreds of people may be affected.

What Responsibility Does Wendy’s Have for the Incident?

The FDA recommends that restaurants contact the Health Department, inform customers, and conduct thorough sanitization with bleach after possible contamination by a foodborne illness such as hepatitis A. While Wendy’s appears to be complying with these guidelines now, it’s not hard to understand how workers with hepatitis A end up handling food meant for the public in the first place. Food service workers often live in poverty and cannot afford medical care or time off. If Wendy’s has pressured workers to work while sick, subjected them to unsanitary conditions, or failed to enforce safe food handling practices, the company is liable for any resulting illnesses or deaths.

If you’ve contracted hepatitis A or another foodborne illness you believe is linked to a restaurant outbreak, call The Stoddard Firm for a free consultation.