Norovirus In Restaurants

washing-foodWhen looking through the headlines involving Norovirus, it is impossible not to notice how many outbreaks are associated with different restaurants.  For Norovirus, restaurants often provide an environment where they can thrive.  Let’s look at how Norovirus is able to easily spread from person to person in restaurants, as well as how it can be prevented.

A Quick Look at Norovirus:
​According to the CDC, Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States.   A highly contagious disease, sufferers experience extreme nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

How is Norovirus Spread in Restaurants?
A person becomes infected with Norovirus when they accidentally ingest a small droplet of stool or vomit from an infected person.  This can be done by eating foods that have been contaminated by a restaurant employee who failed to properly wash their hands before touching your food or placed food on a counter that has infectious droplets on it.  In almost all cases, the food service worker does this unknowingly.  The virus is very small and infectious making it very easy to attach to foods.  According to The National Institute for Health, as few as 18 particles of the norovirus are enough to make a person violently ill.

What Foods Does the Norovirus Prefer?
​While the Norovirus can easily infect any food, it does have certain favorites.  They include fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are leafy and green, and shellfish.  There are plenty of opportunities for the virus to come in contact with these foods, such as when they are being picked in the fields, when they are being loaded and unloaded, and when they are being prepared in the restaurant kitchen.  While the Norovirus prefers fresh foods, it can survive temperatures up to 140°F, as well as steaming processes that are often used to cook shellfish.

Norovirus Prevention:
​While it is a prevalent virus, there are measures that can be taken to prevent the spread of Norovirus in a restaurant setting.  They include:

• Keeping sick workers out of the kitchen.  According to the CDC, most state and local health departments require that food service workers not return to work until they have gone 48 hours without any symptoms.

• Carefully washing hands with soap and water, particularly after using the restroom and before, during, and after touching food.  While alcohol-based sanitizers are acceptable in conjunction with hand washing, they are not sufficient on its own.  According to the CDC, they cannot be used as a substitute for washing hands with soap and water.

• All fruits, vegetables, and shellfish should be thoroughly washed before being prepared and served, particularly when being served raw.  In addition, seafood should be cooked thoroughly.

• It is advisable to wear disposable gloves when preparing foods.

• Any food that has potentially been infected with the virus should be thrown out without question.

• Launder aprons and linens thoroughly before they are used again.  This is particularly true if you are certain they have come in contact with anything that could be contaminated.

​Norovirus is very common throughout the United States, but it can be prevented by following the tips listed above.  Keep in mind, if you believe you may have Norovirus, you should stay far away from the kitchen.

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