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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on sanitation — for consumers and businesses By Matt Alderton

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ORTY-EIGHT MILLION AMERICANS GET food poisoning every year. Most ride an uncomfortable but benign rollercoaster of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Others aren’t so lucky. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 128,000 people per year are hospitalized due to foodborne illness, and 3,000 actually die from it. When Los Angeles County noticed rates of foodborne illness surging in the 1990s, it introduced the nation’s first letter grading system for restaurants, with ratings of an A, B or C in food safety and sanitation. A study in the Journal of Environmental Health showed that foodborne-illness hospitalizations in Los Angeles County dropped 13 percent in the two years after the grading system was introduced. But grading didn’t just change public health outcomes. It also changed consumer behavior. Suddenly, diners who used to choose restaurants based on price or cachet began choosing them based on cleanliness. In return, establishments that used to sleepwalk through health inspections began taking them seriously, instituting new business practices to improve performance and attract customers. As the nation continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, one can’t help but wonder if COVID-19 will have the same effect on America that diseases such as salmonella had on Los Angeles. Now that they’re more aware of public health risks, will Americans place a new premium on cleanliness? Infectious disease epidemiologist and infection preventionist Saskia Popescu thinks they will. “As a society, we’ve seen an increase in cleaning and disinfection both inside and outside the home,” she says. “Part of that is that we’ve become CONTINUED

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AMERICA RENEWED 2021  

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