Norovirus risks from food handlers behaviour
A new study commissioned by the FSA, looking at food handler behaviours, has revealed the highest risk areas for the spread of norovirus. Also known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus is the most common cause of infectious gastrointestinal disease in the UK with approximately 74,000 cases reported in 2014.
Shellfish, particularly oysters and fresh fruit have often been linked to norovirus outbreaks, however, this is not the only route that norovirus uses. Food handlers are also a significant factor when it comes to infection spread. Food handler observations and interviews within a number of food businesses were carried out. The results showed that in many cases, knowledge of prevention strategies for control such as hand-washing, surface cleaning and return to work rules was good. Alarmingly, however, these rules were not being followed in practise due to time pressures, not getting paid if you are off work and lack of belief in the consequences of not following the recommended behaviours.
High-risk behaviours found:
- Food handlers frequently did not wash or dry their hands properly
- Food handlers did not wash their hands before putting gloves
- Food handlers did not change their gloves frequently enough
- Food handlers were using bare hands to prepare and handle food
- Staff uniform was not cleaned properly or changed frequently
- Food handlers were clearing up vomit
- Food handlers were returning to work too early
Caterers should target efforts at ensuring good hand washing and drying and also ensuring that the fitness to work and return to work rules are followed as these are thought to be the most effective at reducing the risk of norovirus infection in the catering sector.
Creating a positive food safety culture is also key to ensuring that food handlers not only understand the consequences of not practising good food safety behaviours but carry these out all the time, without prompting. Effective training, supervision, and motivation are all strategies that can be used to help with this as we all strive to reduce norovirus outbreaks in the future.