Cleaning professionals and food service operators be warned. Norovirus illness can happen all year long and is easily spread in group settings like schools, day camps, childcare facilities, hospitals and cruise ships.
Noroviruses are a group of viruses that can cause gastroenteritis in people, an illness that usually includes cramps, diarrhea and/or vomiting. In Canada, about 300 to 400 outbreaks of norovirus occur every year, with many unreported. Only the common cold appears more often.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, they are very contagious and can spread easily from person to person. Some foods can be contaminated at their source. For example, shellfish like oysters may be contaminated by sewage in water before they are harvested.
Last May, an outbreak was linked to raw and undercooked oysters from B.C., resulting in 331 clinical cases of gastrointestinal illness that were reported in three provinces: British Columbia (230), Alberta (42), and Ontario (59).
To protect the health and safety of restaurant patrons and facility occupants, here are some precautionary tips from DayMark Safety Systems, manufacturers of food safety, personal safety and facility safety products.
When a contamination occurs, the most important thing is to plan for it
1. Have a written spill-control program in place and make sure all employees are trained and understand it. A spill-control program should be in writing, so there is no confusion as to how to handle such situations.
2. Have one person designated to oversee emergency cleanup operations.
3. Have the proper spill cleanup kits in stock. In a large restaurant, have several. The kit should include such things as gowns, aprons, gloves, a mask/face shield to protect workers, towels, trash bags, and most importantly, an absorbent spill pad.
4. The absorbent spill pad should be approximately 21 inches by 25 inches, large enough to cover the affected area of most vomiting incidents. The absorbency of these pads can vary, with some pads designed to be as much as 8.5 times more absorbent than other brands, making product selection due diligence a must.
5. Ensure an EPA-registered disinfectant is included in the cleanup supplies, one that is effective against norovirus.