Preventing the Spread of Norovirus

Cruise Ship in PortIt seems like every couple of months we hear about a cruise ship that came back to port because of an illness outbreak on board. Does this make you want to think twice (or three times) about getting on a cruise ship?

We went on a fairly long cruise last year that had very few ports of call. We knew that once we got on the ship we were going to be there for the duration.

Yes, I gave this a second thought. What if we got sick? It could be miserable. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a small ship’s cabin when you have diarrhea and vomiting.

Quite frequently the illness found on cruise ships is a norovirus. It can be introduced into a cruise ship by passengers or crew members alike. Why cruise ships? Well, on a cruise, lots of people from all over the world come together to live in confined areas with shared dining rooms and close living quarters.

Norovirus is highly contagious and one of the most common pathogens to cause a foodborne illness. Norovirus is frequently transferred by food handlers dealing with ready-to-eat food.

The symptoms of norovirus include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramps. These symptoms can develop within a few hours or a few days after a person is infected and can last for a couple days. People with norovirus are contagious from the moment they begin feeling ill, and they can remain contagious for up to two weeks after the symptoms appear.

Most norovirus illnesses happen when infected people spread the virus to others. It can also be spread through contaminated food or water, or by touching things that have the virus on them.

You think this is scary for a cruise passenger — think how concerned the cruise companies are about it! Turning a ship around because of a norovirus outbreak could cost them plenty, not only financially but also in terms of reputation.

I have to say that I was very impressed with the efforts the staff of our cruise ship made to prevent the spread of an infectious virus.

Sinks for WashingFor example, we saw our cabin steward the first day and then not again. I asked about him and was told he was sick and confined to his cabin for the rest of the cruise. Employees exposed to norovirus need to be restricted from work with food for at least 48 hours from the time of exposure.

Moreover, the cruise directors announced that officers would not be shaking hands at the special Captain’s Reception. This abstention helps to prevent passing the virus from person-to-person — very proactive.

However, I did make a mistake one morning.

I was heading to a container of ice water to refill my water bottle and was stopped by a crew member. He said that I could transfer germs from my previously-used water bottle to the tip of the water container, and then that could spread to others. I hadn’t thought of that — what a good catch!

Here are some more steps that the ship took to help reduce the spread of disease.

  • Signs around the ship and on the television constantly reminded passengers to wash their hands.
  • There were sanitizer dispensers throughout the ship. Some were strategically placed outside the entrances of dining rooms and buffets. While sanitizers should not be used in place of proper handwashing, it was a better option than doing nothing.
  • I found handwashing sinks near some of the out-of-the way eating locations.
  • The burger place near the pool had a sink inside the restaurant and encouraged folks to wash their hands before selecting food and eating. (Unfortunately I didn’t see many people using it).
  • When a higher-than-expected number of passengers or crew become sick, ships implement additional cleaning procedures and use disinfectants to stop the illness. The staff worked tirelessly to keep on top of this.

I didn’t hear of any illnesses on our ship. In reality, only about 1% of all reported norovirus outbreaks are on cruise ships. Visit this website to see the sanitation records of most of the cruise ships that dock in the United States. You’ll want to check it out before you commit to a specific cruise line or ship.

Now let’s take those lessons into day-to-day life.

You can reduce your chances of getting infected with norovirus by making certain to wash your hands often and well. Wash them frequently after touching high-hand-contact surfaces like doorknobs, elevator buttons, and railings.

Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, blowing your nose, and each time you return to your home.

Handwashing before eating and drinking is also important, not just using sanitizer. If water and soap are not available, use an ethyl alcohol-based hand sanitizer, preferably in a gel form. The sanitizer should be at least 60% alcohol.

I hope this helps you avoid illness this year!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Here’s a free printable handout with ways that you can reduce your risk of contracting norovirus and other ills!

Avoid Norovirus

And here are some other amazing resources from the Nutrition Education Store!

Nutrition Poster

Flu Prevention PowerPoint

Nutrition Stickers

Introduction to Cooking Demonstrations

Now is a great time for a cooking demonstration or two. Are you ready to rock a demo of your own? If you’re not sure where to start, then check out this selection from our new book, Home Run Cooking and Demonstrations, by Judy Doherty, PC II. It has everything you need to know about putting together a successful and engaging cooking demonstration. Remember, those details matter!

Winter Green Super Soup Cooking Demonstration Guide:

Soup is Super!Get Ready: A Day or Two before the Demonstration

  1. Read the recipe through in its entirety and make sure that each step is clear and makes sense to you.
  2. Gather your equipment. Will you be able to puree the soup on site? How? Small batches in a blender work well, as does placing an immersion blender right in the pot. A food processor works well too. Practice with these machines so that you look smooth during your demo and so that the soup does not spray everywhere because of a lid that doesn’t fit.
  3. Purchase your ingredients. Any soup demo lends itself well to a discussion of the sodium content of canned soups. Homemade soups are fresh, healthful alternatives. Pick up a couple cans of different kinds of soup so that you can discuss sodium content during some downtime in the demo.
  4. Print any handouts or recipes that you want to distribute to the group.
  5. Practice your demonstration a few times. Try to get family or friends to watch you and offer feedback.

Get Set: A Few Hours before the Demonstration

  1. Visit your demonstration site and ensure that all equipment there is ready to go.
  2. If your audience is large and you want to provide tastings, you can precook a large batch of soup ahead of time.
  3. Pack up your ingredients and equipment.
  4. Review food safety information to be sure that you have proper temperatures and materials for hand-washing, area cleaning, and sanitizing.
  5. Pre-measure all ingredients and place them in small cups or bags on your demo table. Put them in the order they will go into the recipe, with the first ones closest to you.

Go: During the Demonstration

  1. Introduce yourself.
  2. Introduce your ingredients and talk briefly about any notable ones.
  3. Introduce your cooking equipment and each piece’s role in the recipe.
  4. Outline the process you’re going to use to prepare the soup.
  5. During the downtime in your demonstration (or before/after the presentation), you can discuss the sodium issue with soup.
  6. When the soup is done, puree it.
  7. If you’re distributing samples, do so now and discuss the recipe with participants while they eat.

Tips from the Chef

  1. The most important variables for soups are the texture and the temperature. Cooking properly will assure a smoothly pureed soup. Test the veggies with a knife or by tasting them to make sure they are soft and ready to puree. Make sure you serve a hot soup hot and a cold soup cold.
  2. Do not be afraid to adjust the consistency with a little more liquid if needed.
  3. Since this soup can take a while to cook, you can also prepare a batch ahead of time (batch A), and then demonstrate the recipe (batch B) during your session, stopping just before you get to the long simmer. At that point, you can reheat and distribute samples from your earlier batch (batch A). If you don’t want to miss demonstrating how to puree the soup, then you could leave your first batch of soup (batch A) un-pureed. You could demonstrate how to make the soup up until the long simmer (batch B), then reveal your first batch (batch A) and run it through your blender, immersion blender, or food processor before distributing it as samples.

Take it Farther!

  1. Use the Fooducate app or website to grade various canned and prepared soups. This can be a demonstration or a group activity.
  2. Garnishes can also make or break a soup. Brainstorm healthful topping ideas as a group, and consider bringing some options to class ahead of time.

Like what you see? Get the cooking demo guide!

Home Run Cooking

Cooking Demo Display Kit

Cooking Demo Toolkit