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CDC Study Finds Restaurant Workers Responsible for Most Cases of Norovirus

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Norovirus as a “Cruise Ship” Illness is Not an Accurate Reputation

If you’ve heard of Norovirus, the the foodborne illness that can leave you with inflamed intestines and stomach, you’ve likely heard it called the “cruise ship” illness.  In January of this year, nearly 700 people became ill after eating contaminated food aboard the Explorer of the Seas cruise ship.  Some of those people were so sick they couldn’t travel home for some time, and others were taken to local hospitals on a stretcher when the ship docked in New Jersey.  Although that was definitely an expected and terrible way to cruise to the Virgin Islands, experts say it isn’t accurate to blame cruise ships for most Norovirus cases.  Instead, it’s probably more accurate to call it the “salad bar” virus.

Food Handlers Cause 70% of Norovirus Cases

In fact, it’s food handlers with dirty hands that most commonly cause the spread of Norovirus.  A new government analysis looked at all of the reports of Norovirus to the Centers for Disease Control and found that cruise ship Norovirus cases only accounted for about 1% of all cases.  Restaurants were responsible for two-thirds of outbreaks, followed by banquet and catering sites.  Although a disgusting reality, the Norovirus is transmitted through the fecal-oral route, meaning that tiny particles of feces are transferred to food when workers do not properly sanitize their hands prior to handling food products.

Vitally Important for Managers to Ensure Food Workers are Sanitizing Their Hands

Because Norovirus can be so debilitating, and because it is so easily prevented, it is vital that food service managers take a larger role in ensuring that their employees are regularly washing and sanitizing their hands prior to handling foods.  In addition, disposable gloves and utensils should be used.  Food safety training and certification for managers and employees is also important.  Sickened workers should stay home for at least 48 hours if they are experiencing vomiting or diarrhea.