How to Prevent Norovirus in Your Restaurant

publication date: Jul 16, 2016
author/source: Francine Shaw

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus is the leading cause of illness and contaminated food outbreaks in the United States. Norovirus is a common virus that can spread widely and rapidly. Every year, the virus causes 19-21 million illnesses and between 570-800 deaths, according to the CDC. Most of these outbreaks occur in food service settings – restaurants, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, day care centers, military barracks, universities and cruise ships.

Preventing norovirus is a critical issue for the entire food service industry: restaurants, schools, colleges, contract services, convenience stores, hotels, manufacturing and production facilities, medical facilities, retirement homes, retail, etc. Any company that makes, serves, or sells food in any capacity must be vigilant about food safety.

Norovirus is easily spread from person-to-person through direct contact, contact with contaminated surfaces, and ingestion of contaminated food. Norovirus can spread rapidly in close, confined quarters. Over the past year, there have been multiple norovirus outbreaks from restaurants (including Chipotle in Boston), schools (hundreds of students and faculty in Reno, Nevada, were sickened after a norovirus outbreak spread to more than a dozen schools there) and more.

Typically, norovirus involves vomiting and diarrhea. However, in some situations, the ramifications are much more severe. A norovirus infection can become very serious in children, the elderly and immune-compromised individuals. Severe dehydration, malnutrition, and even death can result from a norovirus infection.

Foodborne illness outbreaks are a huge liability for food service professionals and organizations, and the stakes are getting higher for the companies behind them. (For instance, the Department of Justice has been taking a tougher stand against serious food safety violations.) In addition to the tragedy of sickening – and even killing – customers, foodborne illness outbreaks can cause companies to experience:

  • Plummeting sales and stock prices
  • Negative publicity
  • Ruined reputations
  • Lawsuits
  • Jail time for the company's executives
  • Such negative fallout that the business must close.

Unfortunately, although foodborne illness incidents are 100% preventable, they're continuing to occur. To reduce the risk of spreading norovirus and other foodborne illnesses, we recommend the following:

  • Avoid preparing food for others while you're sick and for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop
  • Wash your hands carefully and often with soap and water (100°F)
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables before preparing or serving
  • Cook shellfish thoroughly
  • Clean and sanitize kitchen utensils, counters, and surfaces routinely
  • Wash table linens, napkins, and other laundry thoroughly
  • Train your staff about food safety protocols and ensure they follow the strictest procedures whenever they're preparing, storing and serving food.

Francine L. Shaw is the President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offer a robust roster of services, including food safety training and auditing, food allergy training, responsible alcohol service training, writing HACCP plans and more. The Food Safety Training Solutions team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, casinos, and convenience stores. The company has helped numerous clients, including McDonald's, Subway, Marriott, Domino's, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America, Dairy Queen, and Omni Hotel and Resorts, prevent foodborne illnesses. Additionally they work with restaurants, schools, medical facilities, convenience stores, hotels and casinos.