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We're Seeing an Increase in Norovirus, But Why?

We’re seeing an increase in Noro-like illness among your employees, but why?

For the better part of 2020, we got very lucky.  Some of the illnesses that normally wreak havoc across the industry virtually disappeared, including norovirus. But now, we’re beginning to see it rear its ugly head.  

You may know norovirus from cruise ships.  But it is the most common foodborne illness in the US and, before COVID, made up more than half of our clients’ calls, emails and chats to us.  

Each year, on average in the United States, norovirus causes:

  • 900 deaths, mostly among adults aged 65 and older
  • 109,000 hospitalizations
  • 465,000 emergency department visits, mostly in young children
  • 2,270,000 outpatient clinic visits annually, mostly in young children
  • 19 to 21 million cases of vomiting and diarrhea illnesses

Why is it back?  

Maybe we’re getting lax with handwashing and other COVID-related safety protocols or we’re beginning to socialize again. the reason it’s back remains to be seen, but it’s definitely here - and you’d better know how to recognize it.

The highly contagious foodborne illness is no stranger to cruise ships, restaurants and food service operations— more than half of food-related illnesses in the U.S. are caused by noro. According to the CDC, most norovirus outbreaks occur in food service settings, and infected workers are often the source. Though most people fully recover from norovirus after 24 to 48 hours, age and health can affect the severity of the symptoms and how long they last.

How do I identify Norovirus?

Assume it’s noro when:

  • Two or more employees who are experiencing severe vomiting and diarrhea
  • An employee vomits at work and then continues to do so when they get home
  • Two or more guests report similar symptoms 24-36 hours after eating

An employee is experiencing what appears to be norovirus-like symptoms. What should I do? 

Our clinical team tends to use a general rule of thumb that an employee who has severe vomiting and / or diarrhea  may have noro and respond as such . Another tip off might be two or more employees experiencing similar symptoms at the same time.

So, what to do? First, find out when the sick employee last worked.  If they worked within 24 hours of symtpom onset or while sick, , use the Noro Sanitizing Punch List (available in our Zedic app!). Next, check if that person lives with any other employees. If so, exclude them from work for the next two days and monitor if they develop any noro-like symptoms. Employees need to be symptom free for at least 48 hours.  One of the most frustrating things about Noro is that someone is shedding the virus at extremely high levels for one day before their symptoms start and then for at least two days after their symptoms end.  They feel better and want to come back to work but are still highly infectious!

What does cleaning and sanitizing for noro look like? 

Once you’ve got a pretty good idea there’s norovirus in your facility, it’s important to use an approved norovirus sanitizing product and thoroughly complete your Noro Sanitizing Punchlist. For a casual dining restaurant that’s 5,000-square-feet or larger, proper sanitizing usually takes eight employees about eight hours to finish. A quick-serve can usually do it in four. The primary difference between norovirus-specific sanitizing and COVID sanitizing is that norovirus includes disposing of prepped food.

Are all sanitizers created equal? What should I be using to keep my facility noro-free?

No! The sanitizer that you use makes a difference; some don’t kill COVID while others don’t kill Noro. When choosing a product, make sure it’s EPA approved for killing the SARS-CoV-2 virus and Noro, too. Check the back for the registration number - some products are branded differently under the same number. While not every product included on the two lists is the same, there are many that overlap. We definitely encourage you to invest in a product that kills both because, unfortunately, neither of these guys seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

  • Pay extra attention to bathroom cleanliness - especially handles and faucets. 
  • Step up employee handwashing.
  • Ensure that every single person takes an employee wellness check before they arrive on-site so you can keep sick people at home!  It’s common for employees to be very sick with norovirus symptoms during the night, feel better in the morning and come to work anway.  We applaud their commitment, but every employee and manager needs to know that norovirus can spread quickly.
  • When someone gets sick in the restaurant (as in either an employee or guest vomits), how quickly and how well it’s cleaned up will determine who, if anyone, gets sick.  

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Disclaimer: This post is meant for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute, and is not intended as, any form of medical, legal or regulatory advice or a recommendation or suggestion regarding the same.  No recipient of this information should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.