Norovirus Protection: Cleanliness Critical to Food Safety

by Jeff Anderson

When it comes to food safety, cleanliness is crucial. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that germs such as the norovirus cause 60 percent of all food-borne illnesses. In order to protect patrons and staff, strict food safety protocols must be adhered to. 

This year and every year, one of the biggest public health risks for foodservice businesses to be aware of and prepared for is norovirus.

What is norovirus?
Norovirus is a group of viruses that cause what is popularly referred to as the  stomach flu, or acute gastroenteritis. Approximately 21 million illnesses can be attributed to norovirus, which accounts for 50 percent of all gastroenteritis outbreaks in the world and is the leading cause of food-borne diseases in the U.S. Since norovirus can be transmitted easily and in many ways – person-to-person and through food, water and contaminated surfaces – outbreaks affect people of all ages and can occur in a variety of institutional settings, including foodservice. Given this widespread dilemma and recent advances in norovirus epidemiology, immunology, diagnostic methods and infection control, the CDC recently updated its guidelines for norovirus outbreak management and disease prevention. It is essential to adhere to these guidelines and take preventive measures to ensure food safety cleanliness:

Follow preventive measures

  • Establish frequent hand-washing with soap and warm water as an automatic behavior for employees, especially after using the restroom, before meals, between interactions with people or whenever they become soiled. 
  • Exclude and isolate infected or potentially infected persons – do not allow employees who have signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis (e.g., vomiting and/or diarrhea) to work.
  • Use utensils and/or wear food-handling gloves when processing, preparing and handling ready-to-eat foods such as sandwiches and salads. But remember, the use of utensils and gloves does not replace the need for frequent and proper hand-washing.
  • Disinfect highly touched surfaces, particularly those in the bathroom. Highly touched surfaces include: door knobs, handles, faucets, chairs, tabletops, etc.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that have been contaminated by vomiting and diarrheal events. Food establishments should have procedures to follow when responding to these events. The procedures should address actions to be taken that minimize the spread of contamination and the exposure of employees, consumers and food to these potentially hazardous bodily fluids. 

Interrupt Norovirus Transmission
Due to the high concentrations of norovirus found in the vomit and feces of infected individuals, the FDA is now mandating that vomiting and diarrhea events be treated as emergencies in restaurant settings and that these fluids be treated as though they contain norovirus. P&G Professional recommends that all facility types treat these types of bodily fluid events as emergencies due to the risk of norovirus. One of the key approaches to interrupting norovirus transmission from contaminated surfaces in the environment is through the use of chemical disinfectants. Chlorine bleach has been widely recommended to disinfect surfaces of human norovirus. Clean Quick Broad Range Quaternary Sanitizer is also a product registered and approved by the EPA for sanitizing food contact surfaces, and is an effective product for foodservice operations to have in a norovirus outbreak arsenal.

Sanitation suppliers offer bodily fluid cleanup kits that contain procedures, tools, products (wipes, bleach, sanitizer, etc.), personal protective equipment (masks, goggles, aprons) and other items that will meet requirements in the FDA’s food code. Kits should be mounted on the wall along with usage procedures in all foodservice establishments, and those establishments will be expected to use an EPA-registered disinfectant that is effective against norovirus in order to comply. Please work with your cleaning and sanitation supplier to ensure you have the necessary tools, products and procedures in place to mitigate the transmission of norovirus.

At P&G Professional, our food safety and sanitation experts are at the frontline with our customers, providing consultation, products, procedures and tools that can be used to prevent the spread of infection as well as respond and recover in the event of an emergency. P&G Professional brings innovations in service support and training that are vitally important to foodservice businesses year-round. Ultimately, following the proper prevention procedures and using the most effective products and tools is the industry’s best defense to protect foodservice professionals and the people they serve, as there currently isn’t any medication for or vaccine to prevent norovirus infections.

About Jeff Anderson, PhD.
Jeff Anderson is a Public Health and Sanitation Consultant at Procter & Gamble Professional, the away-from-home division of Procter & Gamble (P&G). In this role, Anderson helps customers mitigate public health risk factors within their operations using science-based strategies, and provides food safety education and certification to foodservice managers throughout the U.S. He has worked in several public health settings including hospital infection control, environmental health/chemistry and sanitation. Anderson has authored and co-authored 15 technical papers in scientific publications related to topics in infection control, microbiology and chemistry. He holds both bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in chemistry from Seattle University and the University of Arizona, respectively.