Nearly 20 million illnesses and up to 800 deaths are caused by norovirus each year, according to the CDC. You’re likely to get norovirus five times during your lifetime.
Norovirus is the leading cause of food borne illnesses in the U.S.; 70% of outbreaks are caused by infected workers. It is more common in cooler months from November to April.
What is Norovirus?
Norovirus is a group of viruses that causes an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It is different from the stomach flu, which is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, cramping and diarrhea.
How Do You Get Norovirus?
There is no norovirus vaccine or drugs to prevent or treat the virus. People with norovirus are contagious when they start feeling sick and until a few days after they recover. You can catch it by coming into contact with someone who has it. Norovirus is contracted via:
- Objects and surfaces contaminated with the virus
- Direct contact with a sick person
- Contaminated food and drink
- Fruit and vegetables contaminated in the field
- Oysters from contaminated water
Norovirus spreads rapidly in enclosed public places like restaurants, cruise ships, schools, and nursing homes. Stringent food handling practices at these locations are crucial for preventing an outbreak.
How Can You Avoid Food Poisoning?
Want to know how to protect yourself from norovirus? Follow these tips at home and on the job:
- Wash your hands: Always use soap and hot water. Thoroughly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds after using the restroom and other dirty tasks in which you may come into contact with germs. Always wash up before eating, preparing, and serving food.
- Don’t touch your face: You have to ingest the virus to get sick, so try to avoid touching your face as much as possible. Your hands come into contact with hundreds of germ-covered surfaces every day, such as gas pump handles, mailboxes, cell phones, and ATMs.
- Clean kitchen habits: Thoroughly wash fruits and veggies, thoroughly cook shellfish, and avoid cross contamination between raw meat and poultry and other foods.
- Don’t prepare food when you’re sick: A recent study found that most food industry employees go to work when they’re ill. This is a recipe for food illness outbreaks. Don’t prepare food for others while you’re sick and for two days after your recover.
- Clean all contaminated surfaces and laundry: Thoroughly clean surfaces you suspect are contaminated with bleach-based household cleaners. Wash soiled clothing and linen at the maximum cycle length and machine dry.
Food Handling Essentials
While washing your hands is the number 1 prevention method, diligent safe food practices are a close second and are part of your job as a food industry employee. Your first duty is to not prepare and serve food that makes your guests sick. While many states require food handing training like Learn2Serve’s food handler and food protection manager courses, smart food handling is often common sense.
Keep the following tips in mind when you are handling food on the job and at home:
- Clean, clean, clean: Wash your hands, wash your tools, wash your surfaces, and wash your food.
- Keep ‘em separate: Avoid cross contamination by keeping raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate.
- Watch the temp: When you’re cooking, use a thermometer to check internal temperatures. Memorize safe temps:
- 145°F for whole meats
- 160°F for ground meats
- 165°F for poultry
- Stay cool: The refrigerator should be below 40°F. Germs only need two hours (less in the summer) to grow in food. Don’t leave food or leftovers sitting on the counter. Refrigerate promptly.
Getting sick is just part of life. You can’t control what other people do, but you can reduce your chances of catching and spreading norovirus and other food borne illnesses. Being aware of your surroundings, the risks, and prevention methods go a long way to avoiding food poisoning. That extra step you take to prevent the spread of viruses could stop people from getting sick and even save lives.
Prevent the Spread of Norovirus: http://www.cdc.gov/features/norovirus/
Be Food Safe: Protect Yourself from Food Poisoning http://www.cdc.gov/features/befoodsafe/