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Missoula County Environmental Health: Licensed Establishments

Health Division: Environmental Health
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Foodborne Pathogens


December 30, 2010

Norovirus

Many Missoulians have experienced the stomach flu that's been going around lately.  But what many of you may not realize is that the "bug" disrupting everyone's holiday season is probably not a flu at all.  Flus primarily affect your respiratory system, and while stomach upset can occur, it is not common.  When symptoms predominately affect your gastrointestinal system, it is most likely from something you ate or drank-- a foodborne illness; however, Norovirus, a common culprit of the 24-hour stomach flu, is particularly sneaky and resilient.  Not only can you get it it from consuming contaminated foods and beverages, but also contaminated surfaces and others who are sick. 

Here are some pointers on how to stay healthy in the peak of Norovirus season, and things you must keep in mind as a licensed establishment:

1.  The key with Norovirus is hand washing and hygiene.  Norovirus is not a pathogen you can guard yourself and others against by using temperature and time control.  Washing hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds is your best line of defense.  Use paper towels to dry your hands.  Use the same paper towel to turn off the water and, if applicable, to open bathroom doors.  Make sure that you are aware of any contaminated surfaces your hands may touch and wash when needed.  Make sure that all food workers not only wash in the bathroom after using the facilities, but also at the designated hand sink in the kitchen.

2.  Minimize exposure to those with vomiting and diarrhea.  Norovirus is extremely contagious and it doesn't take much to get it. 

3.  If you are sick and work at a food establishment, you cannot work until 48 hours after your symptoms clear.  As mentioned before, Norovirus is highly contagious.  One food worker has the potential to exposure his/her coworkers as well as numerous customers if they work when infected.  Think of how a Norovirus outbreak can affect your customers and business.  One short-handed shift is better than taking the risk.

4.  If you have a situation where you think your establishment may have been affected by Norovirus, call the Health Department for assistance.  There are ways to clean and sanitize to reset for business, and specific areas we can help you concentrate on.  It is also important to contact us because not all cleaning chemicals will be affective against it.  You don't want all of your hard efforts to go to waste.  For instance, the Quat-based sanitizers many of you use are not recognized as being effective, and the concentrations of bleach in your sani buckets is no where near strong enough to do any good.  Please let us help you!  This is what we are here for!

5.  The illness is what we call "self-limiting" meaning that the illness should resolve on its own without treatment.  Since this is a virus, antibiotics will not help, but if concerned about how it may affect you, please consult a health care professional, especially if you are considered to be highly susceptible.

Topics:
Foodborne Pathogens

Have a question or comment on one of our blog entries?  Have a question you would like addressed?  Contact ajohnson@co.missoula.mt.us.

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