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Norovirus and Working With Food

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Preventing Norovirus Outbreaks, Food Service has a Key Role
Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States. Learn about food safety practices that can help prevent these outbreaks.

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 the leading cause of illness and outbreaks 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 (as few as 18) 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 Workers 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 few 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 with bare hands. 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.

Norovirus is the leading cause of illness and outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, Most of these outbreaks occur in the food service settings like restaurants. Infected food workers are frequently the source of the outbreaks, often by touching ready-to-eat foods, such as raw fruits and vegetables, with their bare hands before serving them. However, any food served raw or handled after being cooked can get contaminated with norovirus.

Norovirus outbreaks can also occur from foods, such as oysters, fruits, and vegetables, that are contaminated at their source.

Ways That Food Workers Can Help Prevent Norovirus from Spreading

Food workers can follow some simple tips to 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.

  • Avoid preparing food for others while you are sick and for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop
  • Wash your hands carefully and often with soap and water
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables and cook shellfish thoroughly
  • Clean and sanitize kitchen utensils, counters, and surfaces routinely
  • Wash table linens, napkins, and other laundry thoroughly

For more information, see Preventing Norovirus Infection.

Learn more about norovirus

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