By Francine L. Shaw
Typically, we hear more about norovirus between the months of September and April but that doesn’t mean it goes away during the spring and summer months. Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Norovirus is a prevalent and highly contagious virus that can spread widely very rapidly.
The CDC estimates that each year norovirus causes:
- 19 – 21 million illnesses
- 56,000 – 71,000 hospitalizations
- 570 – 800 deaths
The most common symptoms of norovirus are explosive diarrhea, projectile vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. Sometimes people experience fever, headache, and body aches. If you have norovirus, you can feel extremely ill and throw up or have diarrhea many times a day. In some situations, the ramifications are even more severe. A norovirus infection can become quite serious in children, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals. Sometimes severe dehydration, malnutrition, and even death can result from a norovirus infection.
Anyone can get infected with norovirus, and it’s possible to get it more than once. According to studies, it is estimated that the average person will get norovirus about five times during their lifetime.
Norovirus is a huge threat within the hospitality industry. According to the CDC, the majority of norovirus outbreaks occur in restaurants – about 64 percent. And 70 percent of those outbreaks are cause by infected workers. Multiple studies over the past several years indicate that people go to work in the food service industry even when they are sick.
Food safety isn’t simply a restaurant issue; it’s a critical issue for the entire food service industry, including restaurants, schools, colleges, contract services, convenience stores, hotels, manufacturing and production facilities, medical facilities, retirement homes, retail locations, etc. Bottom line – if you grow, sell, serve, or make food in any capacity, you must be vigilant about food safety. Training and following proper protocols are essential to keep consumers safe.
Here are seven food safety tips to stope the spread of norovirus:
- Avoid preparing food for others while you’re sick and for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop. Don’t allow employees to work if they’re exhibiting symptoms of norovirus (vomiting, diarrhea). They must be symptom-free for a minimum of 48 hours before returning to work.
- Wash your hands carefully and often with soap and hot water (be certain to follow proper handwashing protocol).
- Use proper equipment to clean up bodily fluids that could spread norovirus. For instance, PURELL™ Body Fluid Spill kits are instrumental in containing and disposing of body fluids (vomit, diarrhea) that could spread norovirus.
- Clean and sanitize kitchen utensils, counters, and surfaces routinely.
- Wash table linens, napkins, dish rags, and other laundry thoroughly.
- Train your staff about food safety protocols and ensure they follow the strictest procedures whenever they’re preparing, storing and serving food.
- Join our webinar (Create a Good Norovirus Response Plan, It’s Your Best Defense) tomorrow April 16th at 2 p.m. EDT @ savvyfs.com/purell
Francine L. Shaw is President/CEO of Savvy Food Safety, Inc. which offers a robust roster of services, including consulting, auditing, expert writing/updating and implementation of HACCP plans, food safety education, food safety inspections, curriculum development, and more. Francine’s diverse background includes spending over 20 years in the food service industry, beginning as an hourly employee and eventually an operating partner. She continued her career as a food safety subject matter expert working in academia as well as private sector, her company has performed thousands of food safety inspections – for both local health departments and the private sector. Francine is a well-respected international speaker, and has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the BBC World Series Radio, Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, iHeartRadio, Food Safety News, Food Management Magazine, EATER, and Food Service Consultants Society International.