Food Safety: Get Serious About Noroviruses
Norm Faiola, director of graduate programs and professor of practice at the Madden School of Business at Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York, is Hotel F&B's resident food safety expert and fervent advocate of cleanliness in the kitchen. Often, outside elements find their way to the kitchen and the plate.
Norm recently shared with us his advice for best practices in preventing noroviruses from spoiling your operation's reputation and your guests' health.
I assume that you have heard of and studied noroviruses (NoVs), a group of viruses that are the leading cause of foodborne illness in the United States. What do you remember? It’s time to use that information and revisit your operation’s action plan. Some Thoughts and Suggestions
I want you to do a little survey for me next time you are in the restroom stall completing the cleanup from a number two session. Start counting all the surfaces and objects you touch before you get up from the toilet, redress yourself, and get back to the closest production or public area you were headed to. This count should include your clothing as well. Consider the highly infective and low-dose nature of NoVs and that they will survive on your belt, pants, dress, and all the surfaces you touched on the way to wherever your count ended. I know you are thinking: “I washed my hands in the restroom, so the potential for contamination stopped there.” Did you wash and disinfect your clothes? What if your hands were not washed or not washed well? I wonder if you washed your hands again as your entered the production area?
How many surfaces and objects did you touch? How many potential points of contamination did you leave for the next person to have contact with?
Would an employee in your operation who had severe diarrhea and vomiting the day or days before their shift have been trained and encouraged to tell you? Would your operation have a policy to pay (assuming no paid sick time) that employee for staying home and not potentially infecting others in the operation and your customers? If so, thank you. If not, why not? The cost of an outbreak far exceeds the cost of a day or two of payroll for that individual.
Think about if that worker is assigned to your employee cafeteria. What would it be like to have 75% of your F&B staff too ill to work for four days or longer?
Would you require that worker to stay home for at least two days after the symptoms were gone? You should, or you risk them shedding NoVs units all over your operation as they move about and touch surfaces.
Develop a VERY specific action plan for multiple scenarios on how to deal with infectious waste in your operation. What if a guest vomits in your dining room, restroom, or other area? How will your team react? As I hope you know, projectile vomiting aerosols the viral units, and people within the trajectory can inhale the units and surfaces can become contaminated.
How does your hotel’s staff handle a fecal discharge in a restroom? I train personnel by placing cinnamon applesauce in the most realistic areas of a toilet and stall. This is a good test of the cleaning and sanitizing process the operation will use.
How does the housekeeping staff clean and sanitize baby-changing tables? What is the potential for feces on those surfaces? Where do fecally soiled diapers end up? You need to train your staff and the hotel’s cleaning staff to handle vomit and feces as hazardous materials.
Train your staff on the proper procedures to isolate the area and clean and sanitize the surfaces involved. Have complete hazardous material cleanup and disposal kits ready for these scenarios. These generally include Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and absorbent materials to contain the vomit, make cleanup easier, and reduce the likelihood of spreading contamination.
Vomit on and in carpet or any soft surface that is infected with NoVs needs to be disinfected completely, which is very challenging. If you do not do a complete job, then your workers and guests track the contamination to other places.
PPEs must be worn and then disposed of in double-bagged and sealed containers. Mop heads used in the cleaning and disinfecting process need to be tossed out in the biohazard bag, as do any rags or paper towels. Mop handles and bucket/wringers need to be disinfected in accordance with approved processes. I would not put those items back into a food production area again for use around food. I suggest that uniforms be changed and treated as hazardous items as well. Bag and tag for the laundry, so they can handle it properly.