Reduce Your Risk of a Norovirus Outbreak

Food safety expert Francine L. Shaw outlines key tips to avoiding contamination.

By Francine L. Shaw

Now that we’re into the fall season, school is in full swing, the weather is getting cooler, and people are spending more time indoors, which means norovirus “season” is beginning. Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Norovirus is a common and 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
  • Do not allow ill employees to work at all – and especially don’t allow them to work around food preparation areas. Avoid preparing food for others while you’re sick and for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop.
  • Clean and sanitize kitchen utensils, counters, and surfaces routinely.
  • Keep virucidal chemicals on hand to clean and sanitize high-touch areas frequently.
  • Develop, implement, and monitor stringent handwashing policies for all employees.
  • Ensure that all employees wash their hands carefully and often with soap and water (100 degrees F).
  • Use “no-touch” paper towel dispensers in all restrooms.
  • Place hand-washing job aids in both public and team member restrooms.
  • Enforce a strict “gloving” policy for all food preparation. Ensure that gloves are changed frequently and hands are washed before putting on gloves and in between changes.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables before preparing or serving.
  • Cook shellfish thoroughly.
  • Use different colored cloths for cleaning restrooms and foodservice areas of facilities.
  • Wash table linens, napkins, and other laundry thoroughly.
  • Create an ongoing food safety training program for your team at all levels.
  • Develop and implement procedures for employees to follow when responding to vomiting or diarrheal events that involve the discharge of vomitus or fecal matter onto surfaces in the food establishment, as suggested in the 2013 FDA Food Code.

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 several times during their lifetime. So far this year, hundreds of cases of norovirus have been reported everywhere from college and university campuses to a Cuban cruise and the Republican National Convention – no one is exempt.

Norovirus is a huge threat within the hospitality industry. According to the CDC, the majority of norovirus outbreaks occur in foodservice settings, and 70 percent of infected workers cause 70 percent of those outbreaks. Multiple studies over the past few 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.

At Food Safety Training Solutions Inc., we offer foodservice professionals these tips to avoid norovirus:

A well-trained management, staff, and crew is imperative in creating a food safety culture. These values must be established and modeled at the executive level. If the executives aren’t championing for food safety, it’s a major problem for that company and their customers. Ongoing training and education is vitally important to prevent norovirus – as well as other foodborne illnesses – and the terrible repercussions that occur after an outbreak. So ensure that all staff, in all roles within the organization, always follow proper food safety protocols.

About the author

Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including food safety training, food safety inspections, norovirus policies for employees, norovirus clean-up procedures, responsible alcohol service training and more. The Food Safety Training Solutions team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, casinos and convenience stores. The company has helped numerous clients, including McDonald’s, Papa John’s, Subway, Marriott, Domino’s, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America, Dairy Queen, and Omni Hotel and Resorts prevent foodborne illnesses. Additionally, they work with restaurants of all sizes, schools, medical facilities, convenience stores, hotels and casinos. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post and Food Management Magazine.

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