A worker who contracted an epidemic of salmonella from poultry live-farming will not be required to be vaccinated, after Disney temporarily suspended its visitor-only vaccine policy.
Just before opening this year, Disney tested several employees for the bacterial infection, after a spike in sickened workers and led to the shutdown of a popular food exhibit at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida.
It is suspected that a wave of salmonella cases — 32 as of May 22 — may have been caused by poultry processed at Birds and People, the theme park’s farm-inspired feed and novelty business.
The company began testing employees in an effort to contain the outbreak and protect guests from possible contamination. So far, all the samples had been negative.
Disney explained in a statement Monday that the tests showed “no adverse human health effects of being administered influenza vaccine.” It added that each day, “one or two” employees become ill, with the typical incidence thought to be one case every 10 to 14 days. The park is periodically cleaned to mitigate that.
The company cited “the lack of understanding of influenza vaccination in the Florida restaurant industry” as one of the factors behind its decision.
In November, a Florida judge stopped Disney from requiring its workers to get flu shots, citing a lack of evidence that the vaccines had saved any lives.
Highly contagious Salmonella can cause vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration in severe cases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about half of people who become ill with salmonella actually develop diarrhea.
In the weeks that followed the ruling, Disney tested workers but did not issue new policies.
The company in the statement also said that workers’ current policy was that they were “encouraged to receive a vaccination during their first year of employment” in order to further protect the employees and visitors.
John Normile, senior vice president of Business Development at Workflow Dynamics, a human resources outsourcing company, said the length of time it takes to develop a flu vaccine can vary greatly among providers, heightening the risk of employers and employees “having unintended consequences.”
Still, he believes, the likelihood of employees taking advantage of vaccines is “probably still very low” in the restaurant industry, noting that “there’s nobody going around saying, ‘here’s my list of the 50 people I know at my company, I’m gonna sneak in a shot to be able to get out of work.’”
Disney’s workers will not be able to access the recent seasonal flu vaccine until the state’s Department of Health determines it “is safe for people to consume,” the company said.
Other measures will include “educating our team in a culturally sensitive manner to talk about being safe and take extra measures to safeguard our team members and our guests, including “Implementing strict hand-washing requirements in the construction area. (No touching straws.) The construction area in the food building is near the water fountain, so… hand-washing is, in fact, the best way to keep our guests safe and to keep us healthy.”
Salmonella on the rise
The rise in cases of salmonella infection is among the highest ever seen, with last year’s total of 3,900 cases, according to the CDC.
Salmonella can be spread by eating uncooked food that has been contaminated with animal feces or by contact with contaminated surfaces or water.