Music Festivals Face the Music When It Comes to Foodborne Illness

As music festivals come to resemble modern urban events featuring food courts offering a dizzying variety of quick serve meals, event producers are facing up to an ugly reality — foodborne illness.  According to Restaurant Guard Insurance Vice President & Program Director Crystal Jacobs, more and more festival producers are now requiring food vendors to carry coverage for foodborne illness as part of their insurance policy.

Austin City Limits, which draws nearly 450,000 attendees every year, now requires food vendors to have not only commercial general liability insurance but also coverage for foodborne illness.” Jacobs said today.  “I predict that this requirement will become standard throughout the industry within a very short time.” 

In fact, Jacobs said she became aware of the Austin City Limits requirement from a customer who contacted her at the last minute before the start of last week’s festival.  “Thankfully, we were able to provide him the coverage he needed for only $300 and he was able to participate in the event,” she explained.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million Americans fall victim to foodborne illness each year and that number may continue to climb. Last year alone, the CDC investigated 23 multi-state outbreaks, the highest number in 12 years.

“Food service settings are definitely the most common location linked to large-scale foodborne illness outbreaks,” Jacob explained. “In an attempt to bolster their wide array of options for guests, festival organizers are crafting some of the largest of these settings that we see each year. The more festivals there are, the higher the risk of an outbreak.”

Festivals present a unique set of challenges when attempting to prevent the spread of disease. A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases found that large-scale open air festivals have specific characteristics, including an outdoor setting, on-site housing and food supplies, and a generally young participant base, that contribute to an increased frequency of foodborne illness outbreaks. 

Understanding the magnitude of this growing risk, some festivals are choosing to take action to protect themselves and their customers by requiring coverage for this specific risk. “Many foodservice vendors mistakenly believe that their standard business interruption insurance will cover incidents involving issues like foodborne illness, malicious or accidental contamination, but standard business interruption does not cover these exposures,” Jacobs explained. “So, as could have happened to our client at Austin City Limits, many providers run the risk of having their vendor applications denied because they lack the proper coverage.”

Music festivals have come a long way from the early days when young people gathered in open fields to listen to their favorite bands, often at a financial loss for the event producers. “Festivals were a way to sell more albums or CDs,” Jacobs continued. “Today, festivals are the profit engine for many touring entertainers and everyone stands to profit from a successful event. We have to do everything within our power to ensure that every festival participant has the right kind of insurance coverage because festivals are only going to become a bigger and more important part of the entertainment industry.”

Restaurant Guard Insurance coverage triggers include food-borne illness and disease outbreak, supplier contamination, public health authority announcements, malicious tampering and workplace violence, as well as adverse publicity and product extortion.

Specific coverage includes disease outbreak costs; pre-incident expenses; extra expenses; employee expenses; lost revenue replacement and lost royalty income; recall costs and extortion costs; consultant costs; and brand rehabilitation expenses. Coverage for a single event can be had for as little as $300.

“Our program begins with coverage for foodborne illness and adds whatever coverages a restaurant owner needs, from personal, professional and staff liability to valet parking, employment practices liability and terrorism. Restaurant Guard is the insurance answer restaurants and food vendors have needed for a long time now and now they can have it,” Jacobs concluded.