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Olive Garden And The Norovirus

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, December 19, 2006

The outbreak at the Olive Garden restaurant in Indiana has been identified as being caused by a norovirus.

As foodservice operators are quick to attack the produce industry for foodborne illness outbreaks, it is worth noting that this is a matter often in the hands of the operator. The CDC even publishes a separate Food Handlers Guide for norovirus.

Previously known as “Norwalk-like virus,” this is often implicated in illness on cruise ships and it is highly contagious. It is the second most commonly reported illness, after the common cold, in the United States — around 23 million cases of acute gastroenteritis each year.

Prevention is pretty clear:

Can norovirus infections be prevented?

You can decrease your chance of coming in contact with noroviruses by following these preventive steps:

Frequently wash your hands, especially after toilet visits and changing diapers and before eating or preparing food.

Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and steam oysters before eating them.

Thoroughly clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner.

Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with virus after an episode of illness (use hot water and soap).

Flush or discard any vomitus and/or stool in the toilet and make sure that the surrounding area is kept clean.

Persons who are infected with norovirus should not prepare food while they have symptoms and for 3 days after they recover from their illness. Food that may have been contaminated by an ill person should be disposed of properly.

Note the requirement that sick employees ought not to prepare food while sick and for three days after. Think about the economic situation of most low wage restaurant workers. How many are going to voluntarily lose income for a week while they recover?

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