Public health officials in Minnesota are urging the public, especially foodservice workers, to take precautions against norovirus because of a rise in infections in recent weeks.

The Minnesota Department of Health posted a notice June 14 alerting the public and foodservice operators such as restaurant owners about the situation.

“Norovirus is a very contagious foodborne virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. The increase comes after a time of reduced outbreak activity (of norovirus) in food establishments during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the health department notice.

“As COVID restrictions are lifting, please be aware that other communicable diseases such as norovirus are still a problem in Minnesota, and you can take measures to prevent spread among your staff and patrons.”

Norovirus is spread by microscopic particles of feces or vomit from an infected person. The virus can float in the air for relatively long periods of time and easily lives on hard surfaces.

Anyone can become infected and sick from norovirus exposure. This can happen if you:

  • Eat food or drink liquids that became contaminated with norovirus because they were prepared or touched by a person ill with norovirus,
  • Touch surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then you touch your face of mouth; or
  • Have direct contact with someone who is infected with norovirus, such as by caring for them or sharing food or utensils with them.

Advice from the health department

To avoid the spread of foodborne illness among food establishment employees and prevent outbreaks among your customers, restaurant owners and cafeteria operators should take these precautions:

  • Employees must not work if they are ill with vomiting or diarrhea, and they must stay home from work for at least 24 hours after the symptoms stop;
  • Follow Handwashing for Employees procedures, and wash hands often;
  • Use gloves, tongs, deli tissue, etc., to handle or prepare ready-to-eat foods like salads, sandwiches and fruit. Do not handle ready-to-eat foods with bare hands.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)