Vaccine may be required for L.A. food workers workers

Ashley-Marie Olgado

LONG BEACH, Calif. (U-WIRE) – A vaccine for Hepatitis A may soon be mandatory for all food service and handling employees in Los Angeles County after a unanimous decision by the county on Tuesday. The decision comes after an employee of Wolfgang Puck’s catering company, who was infected with Hepatitis A, exposed guests to the virus at various events, the largest event being the Sports Illustrated swimsuit party on Valentine’s Day, according to the Fox 11 News Web site.

L.A. County health officials are now determining an estimate of the total cost and possible benefits for vaccinating the over 100,000 workers at eateries, catering companies and wholesale producers in Los Angeles, according to

The vaccine would cost $200 for each food service employee and would consist of two shots taken six months apart, according to Fox’s Web site.

While L.A. County officials have vaccine plans in the works, many other cities are not intending to take similar action. Food service experts agree that although a required hepatitis vaccine would help, it is not “if food service operators train their staff and demand the use of safe food handling practices,” said Vala Stults, a registered dietician and lecturer in Cal State Long Beach’s department of family and consumer sciences.

“We allow operators to have licenses without having them write a policy on hand washing and prove that they can enforce a hand-washing policy,” Dr. O. Peter Snyder of the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management in Missouri stated in an email.

He also explained that having and enforcing such a policy is much more important than a specific vaccine. It rarely happens, though, he stated, because when restaurants are inspected and closed, the reasons for closure are usually vermin, not because of inadequate hand-washing.

Mary Taverner, a sophomore interdisciplinary studies major who works at the Residence Commons dining hall on campus, said mandated vaccines make sense if there is a high risk for it. “Just because workers have a vaccine doesn’t mean they are being sanitary,” Taverner said.

Hepatitis A – an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus – is more common in the food service industry than other forms of hepatitis. Symptoms include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fatigue, diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. These are common, but some infected people may not show any symptoms, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse Web site.

Hepatitis A is transmitted fecal-orally. People infected with the virus have it in their stool and can spread it by contaminating food by not properly washing their hands before preparing food, according to NDDIC’s Web site.

Marissa Beuhler, a senior communicative disorders major, said that if workers continue to wash their hands every time after using the restroom, vaccines are not needed.

“I wouldn’t feel safer if everyone was vaccinated because it doesn’t protect from other diseases,” Beuhler said, who used to work in the Residence Commons dining hall.

Katy Thomas, a junior English major, said, “If they don’t have good food service and hygiene to begin with, it shouldn’t matter.”

Currently, Hepatitis A vaccines are not mandatory in Long Beach, said John Holguin, the epidemiology supervisor of the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services.

The total number of Hepatitis A cases in Long Beach has actually decreased in the past few years, Holguin said, so the city is not taking any measures to mandate the specific vaccine.

Hepatitis vaccines are recommended for all individuals older than a year, said Laura Kingsford, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, especially for those traveling outside of the country.