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According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), each year there are an estimated 19-21 million cases of norovirus disease, including 1.7-1.9 million outpatient visits, 400,000 emergency department visits, 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations, and 570-800 deaths, which result in approximately $777 million in health-care costs.
It is important to protect your business from a foodborne illness outbreak. The costs of foodborne illness to a business are loss of customers and sales, negative media exposure, loss of reputation, staff missing work, staff retraining, lawsuits and legal fees, and increased insurance premiums.
What is the Norovirus Infection?
Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that can cause a person’s digestive system to become inflamed. Norovirus is sometimes referred to as “food poisoning” or the “stomach flu.” It is the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States.
Noroviruses are present in feces or vomit of infected people at very high levels (millions per gram), which is why it is essential that ill people are prohibited from handling food. Most foodborne outbreaks of norovirus illness are likely caused by direct contamination of a ready-to-eat food by a food handler before its consumption. Norovirus particles can be carried by aerosols over distances longer than three feet to land on surfaces. Others may become ill by touching these contaminated surfaces and then touching their mouths, or having direct contact with an infected person according to ServSafe.
Five Norovirus Prevention Tips for Your Business
- Wash hands. Staff must wash hands carefully and thoroughly, especially after using the restroom. Since norovirus is spread primarily through feces and vomit, employee handwashing is the number one way to prevent the spread of norovirus.
- Clean and sanitize. Regularly clean and sanitize kitchen utensils, kitchen surfaces, and customer touch points (door handles, hostess stations, and customer sales counters).
- Establish procedures. Make sure your staff understands the procedures for cleaning up vomit and diarrhea in your facility. Written guidelines help.
- Keep restrooms clean. Your restrooms should be cleaned frequently. While bathrooms may not be near food, they are a hot spot for the spread of norovirus.
- Employee training. Train your employees in proper food safety. Having multiple employees ServSafe Certified is a good business policy.
The National Restaurant Association and Society Insurance have partnered to offer Society policyholders a 10 percent discount on all ServSafe products. Learn more about ServSafe training programs or click here to get started with ServSafe.
High-Risk Areas for Contracting Norovirus
Outbreaks occur in restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, nursing and residential homes, nurseries, schools, daycare centers, hotels, cruise ships and places of employment – anywhere where large numbers of people gather.
What are the Symptoms of Norovirus?
- Stomach pain/cramps
- Body aches
What Should I Do If an Employee or Customer Contracts Norovirus?
- If staff are experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, they must call their manager and not come into work. If already at work, they must notify their manager immediately and leave the food establishment.
- Notify the appropriate state, local, or territorial health department when informed that the food employee has been diagnosed with an acute gastrointestinal illness or an infectious agent.
- Notify the appropriate state, local, or county health department when you become aware that two or more food employees are experiencing similar symptoms such as stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhea at the same time.
- Staff must not return to work until symptoms have been absent for at least 24 hours.
For Customers – Follow these ServSafe Tips:
- Train employees on company procedures for handling sick customers.
- Customers who get sick with vomiting or diarrhea should be politely removed from the operations immediately.
- Segregate the area where the vomiting or diarrhea occurred, and correctly clean, sanitize, and disinfect any surfaces that came in contact with the vomit or diarrhea as well as the surrounding area.
- Wash and bleach any clothing or fabric that touched the infected area.
- Complete and file an incident form.
Notify your insurance company if customers or staff seek medical care.
Protecting Your Business When It Counts
Local independent insurance agents are the ones you can count on to provide tailored coverage options and risk insight into your business. Whether it’s setting you up with the best coverage for your business or answering your policy questions, your insurance agent is committed to getting your business what it needs. And as local community members, they’re close at hand the minute an issue arises. Find a local Society agent near you.
For additional norovirus prevention resources, download this whitepaper: “Preventing Foodborne Illness: Cleanliness and Temperature.”