Protect your staff and customers from norovirus

9 May, 2016

Following the recent Norovirus outbreak that affected 60 people in a Kettering pub, what should pub operators be doing to prevent a similar outbreak?

Stuart Kelly, EHO and MD at Acoura Consulting explains: “Norovirus is a debilitating, highly contagious bug that can infect anyone.  It can be caught from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. 

It is believed to affect over 3 milllion people in the UK every year.

“Even the best managed food businesses can be affected by an outbreak, which can often be caused not by the business but by a customer being ill on the premises. However, businesses that let food standards slip are opening themselves up to increased vulnerability and the potential reduction in their hygiene rating.”

Are there hot spots to look out for?

Anywhere that the public congregate can be susceptible to a norovirus outbreak but in catering establishments there is the additional risk that a food handler may be infected and pass the virus on through food.

In the event of reported illness, or norovirus in the community, pub operators must put in place increased hygiene procedures that includes the use of 0.1% hypochlorite solution (bleach) for disinfecting, paying particular attention to public areas, hand contact surfaces and children’s play areas.

Top Tips for prevention

Following a few simple rules will help to keep both staff and customers safe:    

  • All food handlers must wash and dry their hands regularly and thoroughly (including under the fingernails) to remove the dirt and debris:
    • On entering food handling areas and after every break
    • After using the toilet
    • After handling refuse or carrying out cleaning duties
    • Before handling ready-to-eat food
    • After handling raw food (meat and unwashed vegetables) 
    • After sneezing, coughing or using a handkerchief/tissue
    • After eating
  • Sanitise all work surfaces, utensils and equipment after use, if visibly dirty an in line with their cleaning schedule
  • Sanitise door handles, fridge and freezer door handles and other hand contact surfaces.
  • Sanitise children’s play equipment
  • Staff MUST NOT handle food or drink if they exhibit any symptoms and should leave the premises
  • Staff MUST NOT return to work after until they have been 48 hours symptom-free without medication

Stuart continues: “If you are unfortunate enough to be affected with an outbreak, it’s important to act quickly and control the outbreak to protect both your business and reputation.  A solid, clear policy on how to handle outbreaks is essential.

He recommends:

Create an Outbreak Control Team

This will consist of key personnel including the management team, cleaning supervisors and staff.  Designate one person to be in charge of co-ordinating the outbreak. It is more likely to be effective when staff can turn to one person for advice.

Develop an "Action Plan"

Develop procedures and refer to your outbreak plan and implement to deal with an outbreak. Being prepared will mean you can handle an outbreak quickly.

Listen & Communicate

All staff (including cleaners, chambermaids, night staff, waiting staff, etc) should be trained to immediately notify management of any instances of sickness or diarrhoea in private rooms and public areas, or about general comments made by residents or guests about feeling ill.  This means you can learn about suspected cases at the earliest opportunity.

Food Handlers should be asked to sign a form confirming that they are NOT suffering from any symptoms.

Create a Cleaning Hit Squad

Put together a Hit Squad of cleaning staff who are ready to go into action at the first signs of an outbreak. This will help prevent confusion and panic if an outbreak does occur. The Hit Squad must not include any food handlers and they must wear disposable overclothing and double bag any contaminated waste. Any materials used for cleaning must be disposed of afterwards in the same way.

Ensure Adequate Chemical Supplies

Keep a stock of chemicals on site that can be used to clean up incidents of vomiting and diarrhoea. Hypochlorite bleach solution is very effective against norovirus and there are also other chemicals designed specifically for dealing with viral outbreaks.  Having a ‘body spills’ kit available and ready to use allows for a quick clean-up. 

Contact Local GP

Contact your local GP practice to determine if they are able to offer medical advice in the event of an outbreak.

Laundry Facilities

Ensure your laundry facilities are capable of achieving hot water temperatures in excess of 60°C and use the hottest wash possible for soiled linen and tumble dry where possible.  Where practical, provide soluble alginate linen bags. These can be placed directly into washing machines and open up at warm water temperatures. This minimises the risk attached to further handling of soiled laundry.

Contract Cleaner

Identify a contract cleaner who is able to provide cleaning staff at short notice, to provide cover in case of significant staff illness.

Dr Lisa Ackerley, Strategic Adviser to Acoura adds:

“Being prepared for the eventuality of a norovirus outbreak is key, because the faster you react to an incident, the more chance of success you will have to stop the spread of this disease. Whilst a customer may have started a norovirus incident, if a business has not acted appropriately to protect staff or customers, this could be seen to be a breach of health and safety legislation."

To find out more about how Acoura can work with you to protect your staff and customers contact us on 0330 024 0255.

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