I am quoting myself, repeating what I have said literally 1,000 times. Every ServSafe class, every new hire orientation, and anytime I explain the “Big Six Pathogens” I refer to the “Shigella fella”. This is a reminder that Shigella species come directly from human beings. In some way, shape, or form a person with shigellosis ate or drank human waste. This sounds disgusting, but it is exactly what happened. The names of the Big Six Pathogens are required knowledge for the Certified Food Protection Manager (CPFM). The remaining pathogens on the Big Six list are Hepatitis A, Norovirus, E. coli (STEC), and any strain of Salmonella.

I bring this illness up as a conversation topic because sometimes Shigella can be a source of public health concern in a community. For the last couple of months, there have been news stories about Shigella spp. in Santa Clara County and Santa Cruz County, California (counties on the San Francisco Bay peninsula). Here is a recent news story (1:46) with some details.

This story points out that homeless encampments are the communities of concern for this outbreak. It can be easy to focus on a demographic when telling the story, but the important controls to have in place to prevent its spread are maintained restroom facilities, access to clean drinking, washing, and cooking water, and the opportunity to wash hands promptly after using the restroom. These are all challenges that are present in a homeless encampment area.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration (The FDA Bad Bug Book, 2nd ed.) have useful information available to healthcare professionals, environmental health professionals, and the public. Because this illness is very infectious and requires only a few of the bacteria to be ingested to make a person ill managers and employees must understand the symptoms, recognize the name, self-report, exclude the worker, and report to the health department. These are important public health interventions and must be taken seriously.

As our Minnesota readers understand, the Minnesota Department of Health requires that all establishments maintain a log to record staff illnesses and intestinal symptoms. If your health department investigates an ill customer or client report, they will expect to see a well-maintained and current illness log. The log’s value to you is that it forces you to pay attention to staff illness symptoms.

Although Shigella spp. is on the watch list, in my 30 years as a food safety professional, I have encountered it less than five times in the form of an infected employee or coworker. Thankfully, all the correct safeguards have been in place to prevent illness from spreading through the food. Following the food code guidance and working with your health department if there is a serious illness will keep you and your customers safe, too.