Food poisoning? It was likely a restaurant worker, says CDC
June 3rd, 2014
01:01 PM ET

Food poisoning? It was likely a restaurant worker, says CDC

Approximately 20 million people fall ill every year due to norovirus, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says the food service industry could do much to decrease that number.

Restaurants and catering services are the most common sources for norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food, according to the report. "Infected food workers are frequently the source of these outbreaks, often by touching ready-to-eat foods served in restaurants with their bare hands," CDC experts wrote.

Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis - often called a stomach bug - in the United States, according to the CDC. Symptoms generally include stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea.

Norovirus particles spread whenever an infected person vomits or defecates. Because swallowing just 18 norovirus particles can sicken a new host, the virus spreads easily, especially when the infected patient is preparing food for a lot of people.

Norovirus is also hardy: It can live for up to two weeks on countertops, survive freezing temperatures, and is resistant to many disinfectants and hand sanitizer.

The way to prevent infections via restaurants and catering businesses, says the CDC, is for workers to thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water, and to stay home for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop.

Unfortunately, that does not seem to be happening.

One in five food service workers say they have worked while sick with vomiting and diarrhea due to "fear of job loss" and "not wanting to leave co-workers short-staffed," according to the report.

The CDC recommends that the food industry address these problems both with new policies and by better adhering to food safety laws and regulations that are already in place.

“Businesses can 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,” said the CDC's Aron Hall.

While infected workers cause 70% of norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food, according to the report, the vast majority of norovirus outbreaks are non-foodborne, and occur in long-term care facilities such as hospices, nursing and assisted living homes.

How the Navy avoids norovirus

soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. SixDegrees

    Just walk it off.

    June 3, 2014 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Eric

    When I see fast food workers shifting from the prep station to the cashier station, all the while wearing the same gloves, I figured out the problem.

    June 3, 2014 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TallyChick84

      @ Eric – Seriously! Gloves are meant to protect me, the customer, and my food from the germs on a worker's hands. But many food service workers think the gloves are there to protect their hands from getting dirty. I've seen too many workders touch money, trash can, and themselves (nose, mouth, ect) with their gloves then go on to touch my food with the same gloves. Once I see that, I never go back to the place!

      June 16, 2014 at 14:59 | Report abuse |
  3. SixDegrees

    "food workers are frequently the source of these outbreaks, often by touching ready-to-eat foods served in restaurants with their bare hands"

    Or, just not changing their gloves after they've touched a contaminated surface.

    Gloves don't possess magic. They need to be used correctly. And I've yet to see a restaurant where they are.

    June 3, 2014 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Danno

      Can't tell you how many times I've watched a food worker wearing gloves, mop floors, handle money, etc and then go right back to preparing or handling food. It happens all of the time.
      I'm convinced that most workers have the impression that wearing gloves means you never have to think about cross contamination.

      June 4, 2014 at 09:40 | Report abuse |
  4. Name*chuck aldridge

    Host me on the show and I will tell the story.

    June 3, 2014 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Thought Criminal

    Enjoy your "diversity," America. Tu rd World food service workers = Tu rd World "hygiene."

    June 3, 2014 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • the law

      Amen to that, lets keep dumbing down America..

      June 4, 2014 at 09:08 | Report abuse |
  6. cali girl

    Could be worse, hepatiitis

    June 3, 2014 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. tonybot3

    can someone explain to me how washing your hands is gonna do a single thing, when hand sanitizers are completely ineffective?

    June 3, 2014 at 18:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • allis

      Hand sanitizers are somewhat effective against respiratory illnesses, e.g., colds. They are NOT effective against either norovirus or the dystenteric infection C. difficile. Thorough hand-washing with soap and water, on the other hand, kills norovirus and c. diff spores. If you wash your hands and then proceed to set the menu on your fork, or to handle the catsup bottle before picking up a hamburger, much of the hand-washing (and hand-sanitizer) effect is negated.

      June 3, 2014 at 19:22 | Report abuse |
    • Stormchaser

      That's because with soap and water you aren't really killing the virus as much as washing it down the drain in the suds. Whereas you put hand sanitizer on and it kills certain organisms as it dries, but not things like norovirus or the spores from Clostridium difficile and since they remain on your hand, you now have a problem. So washing them off of your hands if you can't kill them is the next best backup plan.

      June 3, 2014 at 22:42 | Report abuse |
  8. TFarnon

    This is going to KEEP happening until there are laws that require food service establishments to give paid sick leave to their workers, and not fire them if they provide a doctor's note confirming that the employee has a communicable disease. Until that day, your best defense is to wash your hands with soap and water on a regular basis. Always wash your hands before eating and after using the toilet. Always wash your hands after removing or handling your shoes. Always wash your hands before preparing food. If your hands aren't dry enough to want to use hand lotion, you aren't washing them often enough.

    June 4, 2014 at 05:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jeff

    It's funny, most people wouldn't even want to socialize with restaurant workers but they let them make their food.

    June 4, 2014 at 06:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. tiredofitall

    I think the problem also is local health depts. do not regularly inspect food establishments like they used to..

    June 4, 2014 at 07:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Bob

    At last, the real truth about Norovirus. Based on CNN's prior coverage, you'd think the only place it ever happens is on a cruise ship. Majority of cases are NOT on cruise ships. Maybe now they will drop their vendetta against cruise ships by not advertising every outbreak that ever occurs on one.

    June 4, 2014 at 09:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Danno

    #1 problem is lack of training for line workers...A close second is that so many restaurant managers observe health rules only to avoid being cited. There's no sense of purpose or understanding based simply in proper hygiene.
    If you have any understanding of standard health practices for food service establishments, it is easy to see countless violations in just about any eatery.
    If not for local inspections, we'd all be a lot sicker.

    June 4, 2014 at 09:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Ducktight

    A great argument for mandatory sick leave policies.
    Do you really want your restaurant employee sneezing into your food because they can't stay home when they are sick, either because they need the money or worse, can get fired for being absent.

    June 4, 2014 at 10:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Ateyla

    I worked in food, and changed my gloves/ washed my hands after every transaction, but still had to go into work sick and it made me very uncomfortable to do so. We were never allowed to call in sick without a doctors note, and working minimum wage without insurance, every visit I did make to get a note cost about $100.00 dollars, which was half of a paycheck. The times I did call in without the note got me into trouble, and nearly lost me the job until I finally quit.

    To have sick individuals working with peoples food is just disgusting, and improper training and glove use if just as disturbing. A lot more needs to be done to prevent these issues, whether its paid leave, better training or just a system for the sick individuals to take the time off without the fear of losing what might be their only source of income.

    June 4, 2014 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Karen

    I stood along the tall side of a deli counter one afternoon in New Orleans and watched the young woman who was making my sandwich pick up the common-use telephone receiver without skipping a beat and then drop a piece of bread on the floor and continue to put it on my sandwich. I refused to buy the sandwich, calling her on both incidents. She was very rude and completely denied both actions. Too bad, too sad. Yuck!

    June 7, 2014 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. admin

    Great article. You can browse real time reported food poisoning incidents on this website – iwaspoisoned. It allows people to self report when they believe they have it. Huge number of incidents to browse through, and the vast majority of them claim they come from fast food , fast casual etc. It makes sense given what has been said in this article.

    June 12, 2014 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Maur

    They didn't mention deli counters (meat and cheese) at your local grocery, but they have the same potential issues. Any prepacked foods (potato salad, slaw, etc) plus salad and hot bars are subject to the same employee (and customer) contamination. Basically, if you don't prepare the food yourself you can't guarantee it will be free of these type germs.

    June 14, 2014 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Its Easy...

    Paid sick leave sounds great!! If that minimum wage employee didn't cost DOUBLE to the company to employ after those wonderful taxes, they would LOVE to provide you with that paid time off! So you want paid time off, stop pressuring the business you work for and start pressuring the government to LOWER taxes. It's easy!!! Have a great night everyone :).

    June 16, 2014 at 00:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. James

    Natural Treatment For Food Poisoning
    My treatment protocol for food poisoning is not based on suppressing your body's natural healing mechanism. We do NOT want to stop the diarrhea and vomiting, because those are the most effective methods your body has for clearing these damaging microorganisms from your body FAST. So we want to work with your body and assist it to accomplish it's healing as quickly as possible.
    If you are vomiting (and/or have diarrhea) it is because your body is trying to expel pathogens (bad bugs) as quickly as possible before they get a chance to damage your body. So the natural treatment for food poisoning consists of three parts:
    1. The first thing we do is to help our body flush these pathogenic viruses or bacteria as fast as we can.
    2. The second objective is to avoid dehydration.
    3. And lastly, we want to implant as many good bugs (probiotics) as possible, to give our body additional soldiers to use to end the battle quickly.

    July 30, 2015 at 03:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Mary94949

    Sitting here with stomach cramps after eating mexican food AGAIN. Had not eaten at mexican fast food chain for over a year. Now, 2 times, 2 cases of stomach cramps. NEVER AGAIN.

    Make these unsanitary people wear plastic gloves and educate them about food borne illness, you nitwit management types, or you'll all go broke. I have absolutely had it.

    August 9, 2015 at 03:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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    I wish food poisoning on no one. Getting food poisoning is a terrible thing I had it once in my life and I will probably end up with it again I love going out to eat it's unfortunate that it could happen.

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