Year-end holiday parties are the perfect opportunity to celebrate your company’s achievements over the past 12 months and toast to a prosperous new year! At the center of this grand celebration are the people that you want to feel most appreciated – your employees. Having been permitted to head home a little early to get ready, employees from the mailroom to the c-suite converge on a hotel ballroom or perhaps, a smaller rented space, decked out in holiday wares to enjoy the company of one another, network, win a few prizes, and eat delicious food.
And that’s where it starts. Unlike the other guests who RSVP to attend, a few show up uninvited and bring a few thousand of their closest friends. Germs.
Germs can hitch a ride on hands, smartphone screens, runny noses, and linger in the air after sneezes and coughs. They hide in undercooked or poorly stored foods and stick to cutting boards, faucets and door handles, tables and chairs.
About 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick each year from contaminated food, according to the CDC. Thirty-one known pathogens contribute to foodborne illnesses, chief among them are norovirus and salmonella. Of those sickened, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
But these dangerous pathogens are not the only threat to employees’ health during communal gatherings. Flu season is in full swing. People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away, and germs can last on hard surfaces for hours.
Reduce Your Exposure to Germs and Viruses
To minimize the risk of spreading not only joy but germs, at the company holiday party this year, here are a few tips:
- Wash hands – ensure that there is proper signage for restrooms. If people can’t find it, especially if they are in an unfamiliar place, they may forgo it altogether, come back and put their hand in the chip bowl.
- Display hand sanitizer – discretely place hand sanitizer on the tables ahead of the buffet line. A lot of hands touch a serving spoon. By the time employees get their food, sit down, and eat, they’ve encountered numerous bacteria. So, tie a bow around a bottle of hand sanitizer or put it in a decorative but clearly labeled bottle. It only takes one person to see and use it to start a chain reaction.
- Check health inspection scores – before you select a caterer, do a site visit. You need to know how they store and prepare food before picking the menu. Insist on seeing the health inspection scores and ask questions.
- Have enough serving utensils on the buffet bar – if there is no utensil there to pick up tortilla chips, what will most people do? A few may go for a napkin and try to grab a handful, which seldom works, so they go in with their hand. Ensure there are enough spoons, thongs, etc. to assist guests.
- Strategically position waitstaff or volunteers – monitor food stations for missing or dropped utensils, (it’s not uncommon for people to put them right back on the buffet table!), extinguished heat burners keeping food at proper temperatures, and other common problems.
- Clear dirty dishes or provide proper locations to do so – those serving trays in the corner of the rooms get full quickly once the party gets started, leaving guests struggling to cram their dirty dish on top of someone else’s which often means touching other dirty dishes. Try to clear dirty dishes regularly to minimize contamination.
- Keep food at proper temperatures – caterers or waitstaff should be on the lookout for this, but a more intimate celebration at a smaller office may involve food prepared by employees, not trained staff. Thank employees for their tasty contributions but remind them of basic food safety guidelines. It’s a delicate conversation but worth it if it cuts down on employee absences due to foodborne illnesses.
These are only a few suggestions on how to reduce the risk of sharing more than holiday cheer at your company party. Following basic hygiene and food safety guidelines and proper planning will help keep the mood festive.
Happy Holidays from Sharon Reynolds and the DevMar Products team!