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NOROVIRUS: Facts You Must Know

Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause the “stomach flu,” or gastroenteritis. Viruses are very different from bacteria and parasites, some of which can cause illnesses similar to norovirus infection. Like all viral infections, noroviruses are not affected by treatment with antibiotics, and cannot grow outside of a person’s body. Credit: CDC/Charles D. Humphrey



Norovirus is said to be the leading cause of foodborne illness disease outbreaks in the United States.

Norovirus are a group of related viruses that cause foodborne illness in humans. You may also recognize the norovirus by other names such as gastroenteritis, stomach flu, and food poisoning.   The sad fact is that a person only needs to ingest a small amount of the norovirus in order to become ill.

This virus is extremely contagious.  This is why it is so easy to spread.  A person can become contagious only hours after eating it.  A person can still be contagious anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks after recovery.  This is one of the reasons why the Norovirus is so difficult to control.

This virus is spread from person to person through contaminated food and water, or by touching a contaminated area.  Norovirus is often transferred to food by infected food handlers that touch food or equipment with hands that have feces on them.

Shocking Statistics

Anyone can contract this illness.  The CDC estimates that each year there are 20 million cases of Acute Gastroenteritis  that are due to the norovirus.  Approximately 1 in every 15 Americans become ill with the norovirus each year.  It is estimated that there are a whopping 70,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths annually in the U.S. caused from this disease.

This is definitely a lesson that should be taught in every restaurant, to every owner, manager, and team member without fail.  If you are not an establishment that is taking foodborne illness seriously you are part of the reason for the staggering numbers stated above.


A.     Ready to eat foods.

B.    Shellfish from contaminated water.

C.    Cold foods such as salads, sandwiches, bakery items.

D.    Salad dressings and cake icing.

The most common causes of this illness from the food industry would be:

1.      Eating foods or drinking liquids that are contaminated.

2.      Touching anything that has been contaminated with the virus, and then putting their hands in their mouths. 

3.      Come in direct contact with and infected person.

You can easily put in place guidelines and policies in your restaurant to ensure that you and your staff are doing all that you can to help prevent the spread of Toxoplasmosis.  Here are some guidelines that you can train your staff by:

  • Keeping sick employees from working.  (See:  Restaurant Ill-Worker Policy)
  • Strict hand washing procedures in place.  (See:  When Should I Wash My Hands?)
  • Use gloves while handling food to help minimize bare hand contact with any foods (especially ready to eat foods).
  • Purchase shellfish from an approved, reputable supplier.
  • Thoroughly cook shellfish.
  • Carefully wash all raw fruits and vegetables.
  • If there has been any illness such as vomiting or diarrhea present in your establishment, sanitize all areas of possible contamination, and launder all towels, aprons, or clothing.

According to the CDC:  Persons working with food who are sick with norovirus gastroenteritis are a particular risk to others because they handle the food and drink that many other people will consume. The virus is very small and shed from the body (discharged through vomit or stool) in great numbers. Thus—without meaning to—a sick food handler can easily contaminate the food he or she is handling. Many of those eating the contaminated food may become ill, and an outbreak may result.

Outbreaks of norovirus gastroenteritis have taken place in nursing homes, hospitals, restaurants, cruise ships, schools, banquet halls, summer camps, and family dinners—in other words, places where people often consume water and/or food prepared or handled by others. It is estimated that more than half of all food-related outbreaks of illness are caused by norovirus. In many of these cases, sick food handlers were involved in the spread of the virus.


See Related Story:  Food Industry and the Parasite



References:  Center for Disease Control

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