Norovirus: Preventing Spread in Food Service and Health Care Facilities

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How can food service and health care workers prevent the spread of norovirus? Keeping employees at home, using the correct products the right way, and more.

While norovirus can shutter facilities with outbreaks, how can food service and health care workers stop the spread of norovirus before it begins? To get more insight, Infection Control Today® (ICT®) spoke with Chip Manuel, PhD, Food Safety Science Advisor, and Megan DiGiorgio, MSN, RN, CIC, FAPIC, infection prevention senior clinical manager, both with GOJO Industries, about this norovirus season for both food service providers and health care providers.

In this second installment of the 2-part interview, Manuel and DiGiorgio cover how effective sick leave policies are to keep disease out of both food safety areas and health care facilities. What should infection preventionists and environmental services (EVS) workers know about cleaning and disinfecting food service areas? What cleaning aspect is often overlooked in food service areas and shouldn’t be? Finally, how vital EVS personnel are, especially in long-term care facilities.

The first installment can be found here.

While food service areas and health care facilities are vastly different, many of the best practices to keep norovirus from spreading are similar in both, Manuel said, because the virus doesn’t change from one place to another. “The number one thing you can do is keep sick individuals from reporting to work. Keep the sick employees out. Within the food world, research is consistently showing that this is by far the most important thing you can do to reduce the chances of an outbreak. If you have someone coming in to work in a food handling setting who is sick, and they're in there preparing food, you're almost certainly going to have an outbreak. In fact, many health codes and food codes at the local level require that [employees not report to work].”

Manuel continued. saying that keeping employees at home is not enough to prevent an outbreak. “What about those people who are coming in from outside your facility? They may be bringing in norovirus into your facility, and you may not know it.”

In the health care space, DiGiorgio emphasized that “It's important in health care settings for infection preventionists and EVS managers to be present when there's an outbreak [of norovirus], visiting the unit several times a day to make sure the cleaning is being done according to the [product] label.”

Using the correct product is only part of the concern, DiGiorgio explains. “There's something that we have called ‘contact time.’ That's the amount of time that the disinfectant must be in contact with the surface. Are you using the appropriate amount of disinfectant? It is complicated, and that's why those [individuals] who are experts in the area of cleaning and disinfection need to be present on the unit. We call that boots-on-the-ground infection prevention. It's important for not only a norovirus outbreak, but any outbreak, and I'll argue it's important all the time.”

Finally, DiGiorgio considers how vital environmental services personnel are in health care facilities, and how “EVS workers are unsung heroes. Their job is so important. I think oftentimes they feel invisible, and they feel like they're not part of the team, but they're such an important part of the team. If there's any way that we can elevate the appreciation for what they do, create more career paths for them, I think that's important because [they are] such a critical aspect of infection prevention.”

(Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)

The first installment can be found here.

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