People getting sick in a restaurant is a fact of life for many establishments. Because we have to assume that the ill person may have norovirus, we have no choice but to know how to respond when this occurs and the proper actions to take to stop the spread of norovirus and prevent the situation from becoming more dangerous.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published the 2009 Food Code , designed to ensure public health and the safety and protection of food in food establishments. Part of the code emphasizes the need for food service facilities to have a cleanup procedure in place for handling vomiting events.
This was prompted by the increasing frequency of such events occurring in restaurants and by reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that there are approximately 21 million norovirus cases each year in the United States.
The CDC further estimates that about 75 percent of these norovirus cases are spread not through food but, in one way or another, through person-to-person contact. We say, “in one way or another,” because once there is a vomiting incident, it is not uncommon for norovirus-infected droplets to spread as much as 25 feet through the air.
In a food service establishment, these droplets can land on all types of high-touch surfaces, from chairs and tables to ledges, doorknobs, walls, counters, and so on. Making matters worse, norovirus pathogens can live far longer than other types of pathogens, up to two weeks.
When someone gets sick in a restaurant, we have no choice but to know how to respond and the proper actions to take to prevent the spread of norovirus.
Then in 2011, with the number of norovirus cases remaining stubbornly high, the FDA issued the 2009 Food Code Supplement. This added the following two types of required written procedures:
- How food establishment employees handle the cleanup of vomit.
- Actions that must be taken to contain and minimize the spread of contamination to protect employees, customers, food, and surfaces from exposure.
In addition to the disease risk, vomiting incidents increase the likelihood of slip and fall accidents, making these situations even more dangerous.
So, what steps should a restaurant take to help protect the health of those in the facility when a contamination event occurs?
- Have a written clean-up plan and make sure all employees are trained and understand the plan. A spill-control program should be in writing because you don’t want employees depending on their memory when handling such situations.
- At all times have one person designated to be in charge of emergency clean-up operations.
Be prepared with a spill clean-up kit
- An effective spill clean-up kit would include such things as gowns, aprons, gloves, and a mask/face shield (to protect workers cleaning up the spill), as well as towels, trash bags, and, most important, an absorbent spill pad. Store these supplies together so you don’t lose time searching when a vomiting incident occurs.
- The absorbent spill pad should be approximately 21 inches by 25 inches, large enough to cover the affected area of most vomiting incidents. The absorbency of these pads can vary, so food service operators should do their due diligence when selecting them. Some pads are designed to be as much as 8.5 times more absorbent than other leading brands.
- Have an EPA-registered disinfectant effective against norovirus included in the cleanup supplies.
A video is one of the best ways to explain the clean-up steps to employees. DayMark, in partnership with Public Health Innovations, a food service consulting company, has prepared a short, easy-to-follow video on the appropriate clean-up procedure for vomiting and similar events.
Managers and staff alike should bookmark this link to the video so it can be located quickly on any computer or mobile device.
For more information on Spill Cleanup Kits and ways to prevent the spread of norovirus in your restaurant, contact a DayMark representative.