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Too Many Restaurants Spreading Norovirus, CDC Says

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A new report shows that most Norovirus outbreaks occur in food service settings — meaning restaurant owners and managers need to do more to prevent their customers from getting sick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that can result in stomach pain, nausea, and diarrhea. It can infect anyone and is spread easily. Roughly twenty million people come down with the Norovirus each year in the United States alone.

In a restaurant setting, Norovirus spreads through contaminated food or water handled by someone infected with the virus. CDC statistics show that, between 2009 and 2012, nearly one in four Norovirus outbreaks (1,008 of 4,318) started in a food service setting. Virtually all other Norovirus outbreaks took place in healthcare settings.

According to CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, more needs to be done to prevent these infections from taking place. “Norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food in restaurants are far too common,” Frieden said. “All who prepare food, especially the food service industry, can do more to create a work environment that promotes food safety and ensures that workers adhere to food safety laws and regulations that are already in place.”

Part of the problem, according to CDC researcher Aron Hall, is that too many food service employers fail to send sick workers home. Hall, who works in CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases, says that employers must “consider using measures that would encourage sick workers to stay home, such as paid sick leave and a staffing plan that includes on-call workers.”

Several foods, including fruits, leafy vegetables, and molluscs (like oysters) are known to spread Norovirus. The CDC says that food service workers need to take extra care when handling these foods in order to prevent future outbreaks.

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