Norovirus and Food Handlers
There is a definite link between many cases of norovirus and food handlers. Food handlers present a special risk to the people who will consume the items they prepare. To prevent an outbreak of norovirus, food handlers are now required to follow certain precautions, both to avoid the illness in the first place and to keep from passing it on to others.
People working with food who are sick with norovirus gastroenteritis are a particular risk to others, because they handle the food and drink that many other people will consume. Since the virus is so small, a sick food handler can easily -- without meaning to -- contaminate the food he or she is handling. Many of those eating the contaminated food may become ill, causing an outbreak.
Outbreaks of norovirus gastroenteritis have occurred in places where people have consumed water and/or food prepared or handled by others, including:
- Cruise ships
- Nursing homes
- Banquet halls
- Summer camps
- Family dinners.
It is estimated that as many as half of all food-related outbreaks of gastroenteritis may be caused by norovirus. In many of these cases, sick food handlers were thought to be implicated.
Many local and state health departments require that food handlers and preparers with gastroenteritis not work until 2 or 3 days after they feel better. In addition, because the norovirus continues to be present in the stool for as long as 2 to 3 weeks after the person feels better, strict hand washing after using the bathroom and before handling food items is important in preventing the spread of this virus. Food handlers who were recently sick can be given different duties in the restaurant so that they do not have to handle food (for example, working the cash register or hostessing).
People who are sick with norovirus illness can often vomit violently, without warning, and the vomit is infectious; therefore, any surfaces near the vomit should be promptly cleaned and disinfected with bleach solution and then rinsed. Furthermore, food items that may have become contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out. Linens (including clothes, towels, tablecloths, and napkins) that are soiled to any extent with vomit or stool should be promptly washed at high temperature.
Oysters should be obtained from reputable sources and appropriate documentation kept. Washing raw vegetables thoroughly before eating and appropriate disposal of sewage and soiled diapers can also help to reduce the spread of norovirus and prevent illness. In small, home-based catering businesses or family-owned or -operated restaurants, sick children and infants in diapers should be excluded from food preparation areas.