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Norovirus in Catering

Last year (2016) more people were struck down with Norovirus during the Christmas season than in any of the past five years, according to figures from Public Health England. The organisation also said that the figure was 71% higher than for the same period in 2015. Luke Rutterford, technical manager at Rentokil Specialist Hygiene, explains why those in the catering industry should ensure their premises undergo a deep clean after the festive season, as well as following an outbreak, both to protect customers and ensure that they are adhering to strict hygiene regulations

Norovirus, which is often called the ‘winter vomiting bug’ causes diarrhoea and vomiting, and is one of the most common stomach upsets in the UK. Signs of the illness include suddenly feeling very sick as well as stomach pain and aching limbs. To prevent infection, good hygiene is essential – this includes thorough handwashing before preparing or eating food, and after visiting the washroom.

Regular cleaning

All kitchen and dining areas must be subject to vigilant daily and weekly cleaning routines, particularly when the volume of staff and customers is heightened. Alongside effective handwashing, this is one of the most powerful tools in the fight against Norovirus and other illnesses. It will help to maintain a consistent level of hygiene, while ‘hot spots’ such as kitchen sinks and employee washrooms should be given extra attention to ensure that they are clean.

We advise that straightforward cleaning is scheduled and tracked, ensuring that it takes place regularly and on time. This can take the form of an in-depth, top-to-bottom clean every fortnight or by cleaning specific areas of the kitchen each day.

Fighting grime and bacteria

The period between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, when establishments may be quieter, is a good time for managers to get in touch with a specialist cleaning company to conduct a deep clean.

Waste food, fats and grease production in commercial kitchens is an inevitable part of cooking, but you can follow practical measures to avoid the build-up of dirt, grime and bacteria. Cooking generates airborne grease, carbon and steam, which can accumulate deposits in hard-to-reach areas. If specialist cleaning is not carried out, these deposits can build up, reducing airflow, creating foul odours and even blocking grills or vents altogether.

ULV disinfectant fogging

One of the weapons in the specialist hygiene arsenal is Ultra Low Volume (ULV) disinfectant fogging, which can be used on top of the routine or deep-cleaning regime to sanitise food production areas and process equipment. Fogging is a technique that enables treatment of large areas in a short space of time, generating a visible mist formed of tiny droplets of disinfectant, measuring 5-50 microns in diameter. This ensures maximum coverage and a fast drying time.

Studies show application by ULV significantly reduces the number of potentially harmful pathogens, as it can cover areas that manual cleaning cannot reach or access. Using best-practice decontamination and cleaning techniques coupled with the most advanced chemicals, areas can be cleaned to the high standard that food safety bodies expect. This process is also commonly used in catering facilities when there has been a Norovirus outbreak to quickly sanitise areas and make sure that the downtime of the business is kept to a minimum.

If staff and customers become ill, or complain of possible symptoms that are symptomatic of gastroenteritis, then a rapid response fogging of a high-level disinfectant is highly recommended. It is always desirable to remove an infectious reservoir before it becomes an outbreak. This proactive approach, coupled with deep cleaning, also helps to provide due diligence and goes a long way to appeasing Environmental Health in terms of a responsible and appropriate response.

Employee cleanliness

Washing handsEmployees working within the food industry must maintain good levels of personal hygiene. It is essential that employees do not become complacent after a deep clean. If standards are dropped, a second outbreak could occur, which will necessitate another deep clean.

Thorough hand washing (with soap) and drying should be encouraged (30 seconds is the recommended time) after visiting the washroom, before and after preparing food, and after contact with cleaning products. Alcohol-free hand sanitisers should be readily available in food production and service environments, as they provide an effective, long-lasting barrier to protect against microorganisms and help to prevent employee illness and cross contamination.

Some illnesses, such as Norovirus, have a very low infectious dose, meaning you only need to have a few viral particles to become infected. As it is a hardy virus, it is often transmittable for several days, living on hard surfaces such as door handles. For this reason, cross contamination is particularly prevalent in communal dining environments. It is important for staff with Norovirus symptoms to notify their workplace and stay away from work until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have ceased, so that it is not spread.

“It is important for staff with Norovirus symptoms to notify their workplace and stay away from work until at least 48 hours after the symptoms have ceased”

With several key calendar dates on the horizon, operators must ensure that good hygiene standards are maintained so that infectious outbreaks do not hinder business activity. Ultimately, both routine cleaning and deep cleaning are essential for premises to remain operational, hygienic and compliant, as is a thorough understanding of the basics of personal hygiene. If you are unsure of how regularly your premises require deep cleaning, or which cleaning services are required, then it is best to consult a professional, who can conduct a hygiene audit to reveal where special attention should be focused.

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