Preventing the Spread of Norovirus (Stomach Flu) in your Food Service Establishment

January 19th, 2017 Healthcare,Tips


We’ve all suffered through it. The dreaded Norovirus. More commonly known as the stomach flu. It’s one of those incredibly awful parts of life that everyone experiences at least once in their lives. Did you know that, while there are over 250 different kinds of food borne illnesses, the norovirus is responsible for 50% of food borne infections in the United States?

As a restaurant owner, you’re probably aware that the most common place for the spread of food borne illnesses like the norovirus is right in your place of business. Usually this kind of infection spreads when an employee who was recently sick doesn’t practice proper hygiene while handling food. This kind of thing can be devastating for a food service establishment. If you get a reputation for causing a norovirus outbreak that could be the end of your business.

As always, PJP is here to help. We want to help you understand the norovirus, understand how it is spread, and most importantly, understand how to prevent it from happening at your restaurant.

What is Norovirus?


Norovirus is the scientific name for the virus more commonly known as the stomach flu. It’s a tiny virus that is only infectious to humans and is usually spread through the vomit or stool of people who are infected. Unlike many other viruses, norovirus can be contracted many times over the course of a lifetime. The average person will contract it about 5 times in their life.

The symptoms of norovirus usually appear within 12-48 hours after exposure and last anywhere from 24-72 hours. The symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Stomach Pain
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Body Aches

The real trick with norovirus is that people are most contagious while they are sick and for a few days after they feel better. That means that employees who have been out sick with the stomach flu are still at risk of spreading the disease even after they stop showing symptoms. This is when most cases of norovirus are spread. This means that you’ll want your employees to stay home

Food and water are both easily contaminated when they come in contact with norovirus, which is capable of traveling several feet through the air. It only takes a few particles for a person to get sick, so it spreads very easily. For example, an employee vomiting in a trash can in a food prep area infect food all throughout the kitchen and spread the disease to hundreds of people.

The one limitation the norovirus has is that is can only be contracted through the mouth. This is why food safety is of the utmost importance. If you keep your food safe and your food contact surfaces properly sanitized you can go a long way towards preventing the spread of this disease.

What can I do to prevent the spread of Norovirus in my facility?


The first step towards preventing the spread of this illness in your kitchen is to have a proper food safety plan.

  • Be sure that you have hand washing stations readily available for your employees to use. Make sure they are well stocked with proper soaps and paper towels and encourage your employees to use them frequently.
  • Your restrooms should be cleaned frequently. The bathroom may not be near food, but it is still a hot spot for the spread of norovirus.
  • Train all of your employees in proper food safety. Having multiple employees Serv-Safe Certified is always a good idea. Make sure all of your employees understand the procedures for cleaning up vomit and diarrhea in your facility. Written guidelines help.
  • Don’t limit your planning to your kitchen alone. Consider the whole facility when making a food safety plan. Any storage areas, any areas where food is transported into the building. Your dining room. All of these places are chances for the spread of illness if not properly cleaned and sanitized.
  • Make sure you use appropriate disinfectant chemicals and make sure that your employees understand the proper way to use those chemicals.

Food safety is of paramount importance to a food service operator. Taking some simple steps can prevent the spread of these kinds of illnesses in your business, which will keep you, your employees, and most importantly your customers safe. There really is no substitute for a good food safety plan and employees who are knowledgeable about how to prevent the spread of food borne illness.

Do you need assistance developing a proper food safety plan for your restaurant? PJP can help! Just call your PJP sales person and we can help you develop an appropriate plan for keeping norovirus out of your kitchen.

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