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How to prevent norovirus (and all foodborne illnesses) in the foodservice industry

How to prevent norovirus (and all foodborne illnesses) in the foodservice industry

Food safety expert shares the importance of making food safety training continuous and top of mind important in your operation.

Several weeks ago, while waiting for a flight, I noticed the gentleman sitting next to me was wearing a jacket with a corporate logo from a foodservice organization. As it turned out, he was an executive for that company. As we began chatting, he asked me what I did for a living and I responded, “I’m a food safety subject matter expert.” He replied, “People spend too much time training and not enough time getting their work done.” I was astonished, and wondered if that company will soon be in the news because of a foodborne illness outbreak.

Food safety has been a hot topic lately. There were multiple, widespread foodborne illness outbreaks over the past year which generated a tremendous amount of conversation about food safety. But is that “chatter” enough to keep industry professionals focused long term? Talking about food safety is one thing, but ensuring that your facility is being proactive is another. Were the conversations and media coverage enough to make all industry professionals follow safety protocols: providing ongoing staff training, cooking food to proper temperature, storing foods safely, avoiding cross-contamination, using reliable suppliers and getting back to the basic rules to keep guests safe? When foodborne illness isn’t in the headlines, it’s easy to go back to “business as usual” and not be as vigilant, but that’s when problems occur.

In the past year, there were several norovirus outbreaks, and many of them impacted learning institutions. In October 2015, hundreds of students and faculty in the Reno, Nev., area were sickened after a norovirus outbreak spread to more than a dozen different schools. Then in December, dozens of students at Boston College contracted norovirus, according to the city's health commission. Officials believe the Boston outbreak was linked to a Chipotle restaurant near campus. A Charlotte-Mecklenburg school was closed in February of this year due to a norovirus outbreak. And, just recently, dozens of college students at Chapman University in California have been showing symptoms from an outbreak of what's thought to be norovirus.

Outbreaks of norovirus infection are more likely to occur during winter months within institutions such as schools, colleges, residential facilities, hospitals, long-term care facilities and child care settings. The virus is easily spread from person-to-person through direct contact, contact with contaminated surfaces and ingestion of contaminated food. Norovirus is easily spread in close, confined quarters.

To reduce the risk of spreading the illness, the CDC recommends that food workers do the following:

•    Avoid preparing food for others while you’re sick and for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop
•    Wash your hands carefully and often with soap and water (100°F)
•    Rinse fruits and vegetables before preparing or serving
•    Cook shellfish thoroughly
•    Clean and sanitize kitchen utensils, counters and surfaces routinely
•    Wash table linens, napkins and other laundry thoroughly

Well-trained management, staff and crew are imperative in creating a food safety culture. These values must be established and modeled at the executive level. If the executives aren’t championing for food safety in the corporate arena, it’s a major problem for that company. Ongoing training and education is vitally important to prevent foodborne illnesses and the terrible repercussions that occur after an outbreak. So is ensuring that all staff, in all foodservice professions, always follow proper food safety protocols.

In the foodservice industry training is critical, it’s never ending and it’s one of the most important things you do. With the proper education, guidance and training, your company can prevent and avoid foodborne illness and keep your guests safe.

Francine L. Shaw is president of Food Safety Training Solutions Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including food safety training, food safety auditing, responsible alcohol service training, writing HACCP plans and more. The Food Safety Training Solutions team has more than100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, casinos and convenience stores. The company has helped numerous clients, including McDonald’s, Subway, Marriott, Domino’s, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America, Dairy Queen and Omni Hotel and Resorts prevent foodborne illnesses. Additionally, they work with restaurants of all sizes, schools, medical facilities, convenience stores, hotels and casinos. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post and Food Management.

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