June 6, 2014 — The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that 20 million Americans get food poisoning from norovirus every year, blaming infected food workers at restaurants and catering services for most of the illnesses.
According to the CDC Vital Signs Report, norovirus is the leading cause of food poisoning in the United States, and food service workers cause 70% of outbreaks.
Although norovirus is known as the “cruise ship bug,” only about 1% of outbreaks occur on cruise ships. About half of outbreaks occurred when infected workers touched ready-to-eat foods without wearing gloves.
Alarmingly, the CDC found that just 1 in 4 food service workers washes their hands when they should, and many work while sick:
“1 in 5 food service workers have reported working while sick with vomiting and diarrhea. Fear of job loss and leaving coworkers short staffed were significant factors in their decision.”
The CDC investigated over 1,000 norovirus outbreaks between 2009 and 2012. About 520 outbreaks were caused by contaminated food. The most common source of illnesses was green, leafy vegetables. About 1 in 5 food poisoning illnesses were linked to this source.
People infected with norovirus are highly-contagious. It takes only a very small amount of virus particles (as few as 18) to make someone sick. The disease causes nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea. You can become infected by accidentally getting infected feces or vomit in your mouth — usually by eating food, drinking water, sharing food, or utensils that are contaminated with norovirus.
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