RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Food safety professionals' lack knowledge of norovirus, the most common agent of foodborne disease in the United States, according to a survey by researchers at RTI International, Clemson University, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The research, published in the August issue of Journal of Food Protection, highlights the findings of a national survey of 314 food safety professionals. The study found that one-third of respondents did not identify norovirus as one of the three most common causes of foodborne disease in the United States although it is the leading cause.
The study also found that only 5.4 percent of respondents correctly identified the three most common settings for norovirus infections (health care facilities, restaurant/banquet facilities, and schools/day-care facilities), and 65 percent of respondents had the misperception that cruise ships are one of the three most common settings, when in fact cruise ships account for less than 1 percent of norovirus outbreaks reported annually. Almost one-third of respondents did not know that the most common mode of transmission for norovirus is person-to-person.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 to 21 million Americans (1 in 15) get sick each year from norovirus. It is extremely contagious and can be spread person-to-person or via food, water, and contaminated environmental surfaces.
"Although the survey findings demonstrate food safety professionals have general knowledge of norovirus illness and transmission, respondents could greatly benefit from education regarding the prevention and control of norovirus, which could ultimately improve prevention efforts in retail and institutional food settings," said Katherine Kosa, a research analyst at RTI and the study's lead author.
For example, 38.5 percent of respondents incorrectly responded that it is safe for restaurant workers infected with norovirus to handle packaged food, food equipment, and utensils. "This result is of particular concern because norovirus can easily be spread directly or indirectly and retains infectivity on surfaces," Kosa said. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that infected food workers should not return to work for 48 to 72 hours following symptom resolution.
"Food safety professionals play an important role in protecting the public from foodborne illness through their various duties, which include providing training or education about food safety, hygiene, and sanitation in retail or institutional settings, as well as inspecting institutional food service, restaurant, and retail food store facilities," Kosa said. "It's important that they are trained properly on norovirus to prevent the spread of it."
The study findings will be used to develop web-based educational materials for food safety and public health professionals on norovirus to improve efforts to prevent the spread of norovirus in retail and institutional establishments.
The study is based upon a national survey supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, as part of the Norovirus Collaborative for Outreach, Research, and Education (NoroCORE) project.