February 24, 2020

Food Workers to Blame for Most Norovirus Outbreaks, Study Shows

A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in Emerging Infectious Diseases has found that most norovirus outbreaks are caused by food workers handling food. Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States, responsible for 58% of all outbreaks from known agents.

RestaurantThe virus is spread through several methods: person-to-person transmission, ingestion of aerosolized vomitus, and indirect transmission through contaminated surfaces, food, or water. The virus can stay alive on surfaces for two weeks and in water for more than two months. It is also quite resistant to many disinfectants. The most frequent pathways to contamination are through infected food workers or exposure to water contaminated with fecal material.

According to the study, leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, and mollusks are the most common food sources resulting in norovirus outbreaks. The likely point of transmission was in food preparation or service.

During the period of 2001 to 2008, 9,206 food poisoning outbreaks were reported in the U.S. Only 6,355 had a known cause. Of those, 46% or 2,922 of the outbreaks were caused by norovirus. The outbreaks were reported from 49 states (Vermont being the only exception) and Washington D.C. the highest per capital rates were in Minnesota and Oregon; the lowest in Texas and Kentucky. The greatest number of outbreaks were in California. Outbreaks are more frequent in winter months, but the seasonal pattern varied from year to year. The outbreaks were most often caused by food prepared in commercial settings.

Since an average of one outbreak is reported every day, food handler contact with raw and ready-to-eat foods is the most common scenario resulting in an outbreak. Interventions need to be conducted in restaurants, delis, and other commercial settings. Using gloves to prepare food, stressing appropriate hand washing, preventing ill staff from working, and the presence of a certified kitchen manager are recommended as ways to reduce these outbreaks. The report ends by stating that more development of methods for detecting norovirus in foods are critically needed, and public health officials must define the duration of infectiousness of ill food handlers.


  1. This is what happens when food workers don’t get sick pay. They would rather go to work and get others sick then stay home and get better and lose their wages.

    This is the best example of the way greedy businesses and their race to the bottom to pay people the least amount of money for the most amount of work has horrible public health consequences.

    • As a former waiter, even if you did give me sick time it would be at minimum wage because the $2.33 I use to make before tips would be an illegal amount to pay when not earning tips.So if you pay minimm wage for vacation and I can average $15 per hour, I still cannot afford the lost income and will show up sick.

      • Linda Larsen says

        But that is violating many state laws. Restaurant management is supposed to make sure that wait staff and food handlers do not work while they are sick with contagious illnesses. I know that’s the ideal situation, of course, but restaurants are going to have to start taking more responsibility in this area.

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