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For Food Handlers

Norovirus and Working With Food

Waiter carrying salads

About 50% of all outbreaks of food-related illness are caused by norovirus.

Foods commonly involved in outbreaks:

  • leafy greens (such as lettuce)
  • fresh fruits
  • shellfish (such as oysters)

But, any food served raw or handled after being cooked can get contaminated.

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that can make you very sick with diarrhea, throwing up, and stomach pain.

Anyone who works with food should know about this virus.

Foods Contaminated with Norovirus Can Make People Sick

Norovirus is a leading cause of illness from contaminated food in the United States.

The virus can easily contaminate food because it is very tiny and infective. It only takes a very small amount of virus particles (fewer than 100) to make someone sick.

Food can get contaminated with norovirus when:

  • infected people who have stool or vomit on their hands touch the food,
  • it is placed on counters or surfaces that have infectious stool or vomit on them, or
  • tiny drops of vomit from an infected person spray through the air and land on the food.

Foods can also be contaminated at their source. For example:

  • oysters that are harvested from contaminated water, or
  • fruit and vegetables that are contaminated in the field.

Food Handlers with Norovirus Illness Can Spread the Virus to Others

People who have norovirus illness can shed billions of norovirus particles.

You are most contagious:

  • when you are sick with norovirus illness, and
  • during the first 3 days after you recover.

If you work with food when you have norovirus illness, you can spread the virus to others. You can easily contaminate food and drinks that you touch. People who consume the food or drinks can get norovirus and become sick. This can cause an outbreak.

Outbreaks of norovirus illness occur in nursing homes, hospitals, restaurants, cruise ships, schools, banquet halls, summer camps, and even at family dinners. These are all places where people often eat food handled or prepared by others.

About 50% of all outbreaks of food-related illness are caused by norovirus. In many of these cases, sick food handlers were involved in spreading the virus.

Ways That Food Handlers Can Help Prevent Norovirus from Spreading

small image of Norovirus poster - help prevent the spread of norovirus (stomach bug)
Prevention and Clean-up Posters for Norovirus

Developed by the Somerset (NJ) County Department of Health, NEHA, Water Quality & Health Council, and American Chemistry Council. Available in English and Spanish.

Food handlers can follow some simple tips to prevent norovirus from spreading:

  • Do not prepare food while you are sick
  • Wash your hands carefully and frequently with soap and water
  • Wash fruits and vegetables and cook shellfish thoroughly
  • Clean and disinfect kitchen utensils, counters, and surfaces that may have norovirus on them
  • Wash table linens, napkins, and other laundry thoroughly.

For more information, see Preventing Norovirus Infection.

Learn more about norovirus


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