While many people associate norovirus with cruise ships, most people become sick with norovirus on land. Often, these outbreaks occur in schools, day care centers, retirement communities, nursing homes and military installations.
Further, many of these outbreaks are the result of food processing and preparation in restaurants, hotels, school cafeterias and scores of other commercial settings where food is purchased or consumed. Sometimes, the source of these outbreaks is the workers handling the food—one estimate puts it as high as 54 percent.
If the worker is infected with the disease, they can pass the bug on to others by touching food items—even after the food has been cooked—with their bare hands before serving,.
While some people can die from norovirus, most experience two to three days of very serious flu symptoms. However, we should note that one of the good things about this disease (if there is a good thing about norovirus) is that symptoms typically occur in about 12 hours. This gives public health officials a short enough time period to track down the source of the outbreak and, if necessary, stop operations to keep the infection from spreading.
Ways We Can Prevent Norovirus Outbreaks
When it comes to preventing the spread of norovirus, the most important thing food service professionals can do is educate workers about the disease and how their actions or inactions can spread the disease. For instance, when a worker is sick, they should stay home. Other steps that should be taken include the following:
Food service workers should avoid touching food without wearing disposable gloves ; clear vinyl gloves work well in kitchen applications in which manual dexterity and flexibility are necessary.
Make sure workers are well versed in food safety practices. Along with washing hands–for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap–and wearing disposable gloves, this would include such things as keeping raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices away from other foods such as fruits and vegetables. After cutting raw meats, the cutting board should be properly cleaned along with the utensils used and the countertops in which the work was performed.
Food service workers should also be aware that norovirus germs can remain on foods, even at freezing temperatures and heat above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Germs can linger on countertops and utensils for up to two weeks; when it comes to cleaning surfaces, some disinfectants will prove ineffective.
The food should also be properly labeled and the labels selected should be moisture resistant with strong adhesives that stick to a variety of surfaces. Day-of-the-week labels are very effective in keeping food safe in a food service facility. Plus, they simplify food and product rotation and assist in compliance with HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) protocol.
Establishments should keep a fully-stocked bodily fluid spill cleanup kit on hand at all times. A bodily fluid spill incident, such as vomit, can put both workers and customers at risk. When used properly, kits such as the SafetyApplied Spill Cleanup Kit greatly reduce this risk.
Many countries have initiated regulations and provide educational services to help prevent the spread of norovirus in the food service industry. Employers and food service administrators should be familiar with these regulations as well as take advantage of all educational services provided.
For more information on ways to prevent norovirus, food labeling systems, and ways to keep our food safe and healthy, contact a DayMark Safety Systems representative.