Improper hand washing and failure to follow proper food handling practices at restaurants are the most common sources of norovirus outbreaks, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Often associated with cruise ships, norovirus outbreaks at restaurants accounted for 64 percent of the known outbreaks between 2009 and 2012, the CDC study. Of those outbreaks, 70 percent were linked to food workers.
Norovirus is estimated to cause one in 15 U.S. residents to become ill each year, as well as 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and 570 to 800 deaths, predominately among young children and senior citizens, the CDC reported.
The CDC recommends “improved adherence to appropriate hand hygiene,” according to the report.
Simply put – the CDC wants restaurant workers to wash their hands thoroughly.
“Listen, you don’t want people calling, saying, ‘I think I got sick. I ate at your place,’” said Brian Latner, Chef Instructor at the Culinary School of Fort Worth.
Day one, class one at the school is food handling safety, Latner said.
“We start with, ‘This is how you wash your hands,’” Latner said. “That basic.”
The Tarrant County Public Health Department has conducted 2,994 inspections of restaurants and professional kitchens since Jan. 1, according to numbers provided by Kelly Hanes, Senior Public Information Officer with the health department.
There have been 18 self-reported instances of possible foodborne illnesses contracted at restaurants inspected by Tarrant County, Hanes said.
Of the serious violations found, improper hand washing ranked fourth-most with 62 out of compliance instances.
The top three violations included:
- 303 violations for “Good Hygienic Practices” – which could include several problems, including having a personal drink around food preparation areas, Hanes said.
- 150 violations for “Cold Hold” – when refrigerated food is not kept cold enough
- 92 violations for “Hot Hold” – when food is cooked and it is not kept warm enough
Any professionally-trained chef should be well-versed in how to properly handle food safely, Latner said.
“[But] what happens is they get sloppy. Like all people who do a job for a while, you sometimes, the little things go away,” said Latner. “The little things are what hurt you eventually.”