The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration has launched a campaign to lower the risk of exposure to norovirus when dining out.

Ahead of Christmas, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (Fødevarestyrelsen) is focusing on how staff in professional kitchens, in cafés, canteens, restaurants and delicatessens can help to curb norovirus infections, which the agency said normally peak toward the end of the year.

Chefs and kitchen staff should stay home from work if they have symptoms of norovirus infection or have just had the disease. People can be infectious before feeling sick and at least 48 hours after having recovered.

Niels Ladefoged Nielsen, a consultant at the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, said norovirus is extremely contagious, and there have been times when a single mistake in a professional kitchen has affected a large number of guests.

Nielsen said while the message of not cooking for others while feeling unwell is aimed at food professionals, it also applies to people at home in their own kitchen, and when preparing or serving food for family or friends.

Scale of problem and solutions
Norovirus can enter a kitchen via microscopic amounts of vomit and feces on hands or from contaminated foods, especially berries, vegetables and oysters. It causes vomiting and diarrhea and can spread from person-to-person as well as from foods and beverages.

Norovirus outbreaks declined from 19 with more than 900 sick in 2019 to six in 2020 with nearly 400 illnesses, according to the latest report on zoonoses in Denmark. The transmission route for four of the six outbreaks was ill kitchen staff or a healthy carrier of the virus among employees or kitchen staff taking care of ill people at home before entering the kitchen.

The campaign states it is crucial that everyone washes their hands with warm water and soap before they start cooking or serving food to customers and guests. Messaging will address tutors in primary and secondary schools, teachers at cooking schools and those in the food industry. To watch the video with English subtitles follow this link.

For norovirus, symptoms usually appear about 12 to 48 hours after consuming contaminated food and last one to two days. They include severe nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and watery diarrhea. Most people make a full recovery however others, mainly the very young or elderly, may become dehydrated and require hospital treatment.

Norwegian officials have also warned about autumn and winter being the peak season for norovirus.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) said good hand hygiene reduces the chance of becoming infected and protects against further spread of the virus.

The first outbreaks of norovirus have already been reported to the agency this year. In 2020, half as many outbreaks were recorded in health care institutions compared with the previous year. The figure was 43 compared to 82 and 98 in 2018 and 2019. Reinforced infection control measures in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic were cited as one of the reasons for the decline.

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