Norovirus outbreaks in the food industry – how to avoid them

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhoea. It is also known as the winter vomiting bug because it is more common in the colder months. Norovirus is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the UK, accounting for an estimated 380,000 cases and 800 hospitalisations every year.

Outbreaks can have serious consequences for the food industry, such as loss of reputation, customer complaints, legal action, and closure of premises.

Norovirus can contaminate food and water through contact with an infected person or their faeces or vomit. It can also survive on surfaces and utensils for several days.

Norovirus can infect anyone, but some people are more vulnerable, such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. The symptoms of norovirus usually start within 12 to 48 hours of exposure and last for one to three days. There is no specific treatment for norovirus, except for drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

Prevent norovirus outbreaks

To prevent norovirus outbreaks in the food industry, it is essential to follow good hygiene practices and comply with food safety regulations. Here are some tips to help you reduce the risk of norovirus contamination:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling food, especially raw meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood. Do not rely on alcohol gels or wipes, as they do not kill norovirus.
  • Wear disposable gloves and aprons when handling food. Change them frequently and dispose of them properly.
  • Use separate chopping boards, knives, and utensils for raw and cooked food. Wash them with hot water and detergent or sanitiser after each use.
  • Cook food thoroughly to kill any germs. Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood. Follow the guidance from the Food Standards Agency on safe cooking temperatures.
  • Chill food promptly and store it in the fridge or freezer at the correct temperature. Do not leave food out at room temperature for more than two hours. Do not reheat food more than once.
  • Avoid cross-contamination between food and other items, such as cleaning cloths, towels, or personal belongings. Keep raw and cooked food separate at all times.
  • Clean and disinfect all surfaces and equipment that may have come into contact with norovirus. Use a bleach-based product or a disinfectant that is effective against norovirus. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use it safely.
  • Dispose of any food that may have been contaminated by norovirus. Do not serve it to customers or staff.
  • Report any cases of norovirus among your staff or customers to your manager or supervisor. Exclude any staff who have symptoms of norovirus from work until they have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours. Inform your local authority if you suspect a norovirus outbreak in your premises.
Chef coughing with suspected norovirus

Outbreaks can be prevented by following these simple steps. However, if you need more guidance or support on how to implement effective food safety measures in your business, you can contact us today.

Complete Food Safety has a team of experienced consultants who can provide you with practical advice and solutions tailored to your needs. We can also help you with health and safety, fire safety, allergen management, hygiene monitoring, and more.