How much does a Foodborne illness outbreak cost you?

One of the excuses I hear often is, “ I do not have time to cool food”.

This can also be translated into I don’t have enough staff, I don’t have enough money, or I do not think that cooling food correctly is as important as making a lot of food at once. Unfortunately, this is not okay. We have fallen into this culture that once the food has been heated, we no longer have to give special attention.

Let’s spend a little time focusing on what happens when we don’t cool food properly.

The first step is entering the temperature danger zone. The temperature danger zone is 41°F to 135°F. When we take food that is being held at 135°F is place it into the cooler a two things happen. First, it immediately enters the danger zone, next it releases heat affecting the temperature of all the food stored around it.

In the case of a cooler that is barely keeping food at 40°F because of frequent opening and closing, this is not good. That means the items around it also enter the temperature danger zone. For this example, we are going to say we have a hotel pan of beans fresh off the steam table.

Two hours later they are at 80°F and the three items next to the beans are at 45°F. The bacteria in the beans have had a chance to grow along with the three items next to it. Unfortunately, since these items are in the cooler, we are going to assume they either are cold or will soon get there and we are not going to go back to check the temperature. So what happens?

The next four hours pass and the beans have managed to cool down to 50°F and the items around it are still around 45°F. The next time any of these items are served we are risking a foodborne illness outbreak.

Let’s attach some dollar signs to that. How much will it cost a restaurant if they are the cause of a foodborne illness outbreak?

The National Center of Biotechnology Information has done the math for us.

“We estimated that the cost of a single foodborne illness outbreak ranged from $3968 to $1.9 million for a fast-food restaurant, $6330 to $2.1 million for a fast-casual restaurant, $8030 to $2.2 million for a casual-dining restaurant, and $8273 to $2.6 million for a fine-dining restaurant, varying from a 5-person outbreak, with no lost revenue, lawsuits, legal fees, or fines, to a 250-person outbreak, with high lost revenue (100 meals lost per illness), and a high amount of lawsuits and legal fees ($1 656 569) and fines ($100 000). This cost amounts to 10% to 5790% of a restaurant's annual marketing costs and 0.3% to 101% of annual profits and revenue. The biggest cost drivers were lawsuits and legal fees, outbreak size, and lost revenue. Pathogen type affected the cost by a maximum of $337 000, the difference between a Bacillus cereus outbreak (least costly) and a listeria outbreak (most costly).”

In the case of you being the owner of a very lucky fast food restaurant with no reported illnesses, it could still cost you $3,968 in revenue. This is the equivalent of hiring one additional part-time employee who is single-handedly in charge of cooling for 6 months.

Or for same price, you can have a team of 26 people becomes ServSafe® Certified Food Safety Managers and save yourself the trouble of bad press and publicity. Now I am not saying everyone on your team needs to be ServSafe® Certified but they do need to be trained.

4 Ways to Cool Food Quickly and Safely

1. Ice Wand

2. Ice bath (preferably in a metal pan, as they transfer heat away from food quicker than plastic)

3. Dividing food up into smaller/shallow containers

4. Blast Chiller (starting price as low as $5400)

Every year first-time restaurant owners close their doors because they are not willing to make the investment needed to serve food safe for the longevity of their business. Operating a restaurant is a marathon that takes training and discipline. There are no shortcuts.


Serving Atlanta and Metro Area


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Tel: 678.674.4823

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