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Food protection group agrees norovirus needs more attention

Opinion

Editor’s note: The Conference for Food Protection is managed by an executive board that includes 23 voting members who represent: state food regulatory agencies from each of the FDA regions; local food regulatory agencies from each of the FDA regions; the FDA; USDA/FSIS; the CDC, the food industry; an academic institution; and consumers.

BOISE, ID — On Wednesday, state representatives arrived and gathered to vote on the work done in recent days by the three Councils of the Conference for Food Protection. They were disadvantaged by not having had participated in the deep-dive assessments, but were briefed by their regulatory colleagues.

Conference-for-Food-Protection-2016

Chairman John Luker addresses the closing session of the bi-annual meeting of the Conference for Food Protection. (Photos by Jim Mann)

The star of the 2016 meeting of the Conference for Food Protection was clearly norovirus. Pre-session chitchat Wednesday continued connecting the many dots between new learning on biofilms and vomit-readiness plans, which should require that a 50-foot diameter area be cordoned off for deep cleaning if norovirus is suspected.

This requirement appears quite important, but will be difficult to implement in places like produce aisles of grocery stores or in quick-serve restaurants where closing a 50-foot circle would mean closing the restaurant. Might the incident be a bout of morning sickness, the flu or too much alcohol? Conference-for-Food-Protection-documentsQuick action is a critical part of vomit-readiness plans, offering little opportunity to
confirm the possibility of norovirus.

Norovirus lexicon was enriched at the 2016 CFP when the word “spewnami” was added as a descriptor for scenes of multiple incidents.

The source dot that carried conversations though to the sixth and final day of the bi-annual meeting was the August 2015 Simi Valley norovirus outbreak among patrons of a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant. Conference attendees commented that known shortcomings in food safety controls now threaten executives with personal penal action.

Early last week, just prior to the opening of the 2016 Conference, an exciting norovirus breakthrough was announced by NoroCore. Scientists from Baylor University led a multi-school team to culture human norovirus in the lab, opening the door to many avenues of needed research. This phenomenal advancement is a true display of American scientific prowess. The collaboration adds hope to solving this and many other threats to public health.

Other anecdotal facts were shared at the Conference, each adding new support for the importance of the prime norovirus intervention — handwashing. Aircraft carriers are rarely grouped with the cruise ships but yet they do share in the norovirus war. Military vessels must be battle-ready at all times, but they are totally disabled when this microbial menace hits.

It is difficult to directly connect a Conference issue with new food safety product developments but easy to connect to its idea-generating sidebars. Thanks to one such exchange, researchers have collaborated to develop a norovirus-effective hand sanitizer, now commonly used on cruise liners. Hopefully it will find its way to defend those defending our country.

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