Preventing a Norovirus Outbreak

With over 20 million people catching norovirus each year in the United States, chances are many establishments that serve food will come into contact with the virus. The most common places that norovirus shows up are restaurants, schools, cruise ships, nursing homes, prisons, and catered events. Now, since about 70 percent of norovirus outbreaks result from infected food service workers, to keep an outbreak from happening, your establishment should know and implement key food safety methods.

Here are the most important keys to preventing a norovirus outbreak:

  • Restrict the area. Wherever a norovirus incident (vomiting or diarrhea) has occurred, immediately clear the area and restrict those who have access to the area. For example, if someone vomits in a dining room and you suspect that norovirus is the culprit, clear the dining room and do not let others in that area until the room has been cleaned and disinfected thoroughly.
  • Rely on the Person-in-Charge. Assuming that you have a Person-in-Charge when it comes to safety issues, rely on this person (manager, shift manager, safety manager) to follow proper protocol procedures when handling norovirus. If you don’t have anyone in charge of safety measures, train and implement someone as soon as possible.
  • Clean and disinfect the area. Preventing a norovirus outbreak will include thorough cleaning and disinfecting the entire area. Norovirus likes to spread and spreads easily. One vomit episode can send upwards of 300,000 microscopic bits of norovirus spinning through the air to land on anything and everything. Your job will be to clean and disinfect militantly using a powerful disinfectant or bleach/water solution. Be sure to use EPA approved disinfectants or a bleach/water solution (5 to 25 tablespoons bleach to one gallon of water), as these are the most effective liquids to kill norovirus. There are norovirus spill kits available to help prevent a norovirus outbreak, which include clean up supplies like disposable gloves, gowns, eye wear, absorbent powder to soak up bodily fluids, plastic bags you can seal, and powerful disinfectant for clean-up.
  • You will need to wash everything that can be laundered that is in the area. This goes for employee uniforms, aprons, tablecloths, cloth napkins, curtains, and anything else you see that has been exposed. Wash in hot water with laundry detergent and dry in the dryer on a high heat setting.
  • Encourage frequent hand washing. Those who are in charge of clean up need to wash hands thoroughly and regularly, even if they’ve been wearing gloves during clean up (which they should be).
  • Bag everything and put in garbage. Soiled clothing and any supplies you’ve used to clean the area should be put in a sealable plastic bag, sealed, and put outside in the garbage can. Be careful as you bag items, as the virus can become airborne if you’re hastily throwing towels and such around. In other words, be gentle as you clean up.
  • Send any infected workers home. Those employees that are ill ought to be sent home immediately and encouraged to follow safety guidelines at home to prevent norovirus from spreading. Do not let them return to work until they have been symptom free for at least 48 hours, as the virus can still be contagious even after symptoms have passed.