Norovirus: What can you do to protect yourself and others.

I start each class with a review of  some CDC statistics.  Is it part of the ServSafe curriculum? No. Why do I do it?  One simple answer, I want my students to understand how easy it is to have a positive impact on the safety of the food they are serving and why personal hygiene is so important.

I am glad to see news media reporting on the recent story from the CDC discussing Norovirus.  According to the CDC, Norovirus outbreaks are more prevalent between November and April.  They have also recently discovered a new strain in Australia however they do not know what impact this new strain will have on outbreaks in the US.  Informing the public that the “stomach flu” is really Gastroenteritis, most often from food, is the big take away here.  

Protect others:

Here is what I tell my students.  According to the 2011 CDC estimates for domestically acquired foodborne illness, 58% of reported and identified cases are Norovirus.  What is the easiest way to prevent the spread of a virus, I ask? Through proper personal hygiene, especially, hand washing.  Only a small amount of Norovirus can make someone ill.  Heat treating food will kill the virus.  That is why we should avoid bare and gloved hand contact with food that will be consumed without further cooking.  Wait, did I say gloved hand contact as well.  Yes is did!  Imagine this: I go to the bathroom, don’t wash my hands. I enter the kitchen and stick my hand in the box of gloves.  I have now potentially contaminated the entire box with feces.  Did I mention last week I had “the stomach flu”, a hum, possibly Norovirus.  Confess: How many times have you seen someone not use gloves for a single use.  In my opinion they are the most abused tool in the kitchen.  But we will save a discussion on gloves for another post.  

Wash your hands.  I don’t want to ever hear someone singing at the sink. No ABC song or Happy Birthday here.  I want to see a clock with a second hand above the sink.  Turn the water on, 100 degrees or warmer, soap up, scrub 10-15 seconds, rinse and dry with an air dryer or single use paper towel.  Not a wiping rag, your pants or apron.  A single use paper towel!  Pretty simple, right? 58% of cases prevented. 

Protect yourself:

You go out to eat with friends.  They recommend the spot.  You walk in and see some tell tale signs that the establishment may not be as clean as you hoped.  You don’t want to say anything to your friends so you look at the menu and wonder, what would be the safest thing to order?  A salad? The soup? Fried Shrimp basket?

What do you think?  My vote is all for the fried food.  Now is not the time to be concerned about the waistline.  Foodhandlers are less likely to touch hot fried food with hands.

Also, please do not ever get fruit in your drink.  If you ever worked hospitality you know that the lemons and limes are often cut in less than desirable conditions.


Train your staff.  The cost of training well outweighs the cost of customers that you may lose when they see staff using poor practices.



Certified Food Safety Manager course: Can you take the online course?

Can you take the online course and receive certification?

Yes, you can. But…

I received a phone call today from someone stating they only need to take the exam.  “That is fine, I can proctor your ServSafe® exam”,  I said.  Then I asked, “What jurisdiction are you planning on working and will you be needing your county card?”  His answer was Baltimore County and “Yes” I will be getting my card. After informing him that since he is not taking classroom training I can not issue a training hours letter needed by all the local counties requiring a food safety manager on duty.  This means that he will need to pay for the class again.  He could have received his certificate but without the training hours letter he would not have been able to receive his card.

There are many websites that offer online courses.  Unfortunately many do not openly tell you that you should check to make sure if online food safety manager training is approved.  If you are planning on using your ServSafe certificate in Baltimore County or City, Prince Georges, Howard or Montgomery counties you will need to take classroom training from an inter-jurisdictionally approved instructor.   All other locations can take an online course but you still need to take the exam using a ServSafe® approved proctor.

Can you take the online Exam?

Yes, the online exam is a proctored exam and is accepted in all Maryland jurisdictions.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Sue at 410-382-4325.  If you need training please visit our website here for schedule.


Protecting Consumers from Illness: Employee Training, More Regulation or both.


Lets start with statistics.  According to the 2011 CDC estimates for domestically acquired illness, Norovirus is responsible for 58 % or 5.5 million cases a year.  See full report here.

According to the CDC, “Outbreaks of norovirus illness have also occurred in restaurants, cruise ships, schools, banquet halls, summer camps, and even at family dinners. These are all places where people often eat food handled or prepared by others.”  Why then all of the focus on new manufacturing regulations under the Food Safety Modernization act by the FDA?

I believe the answer is to prevent and reduce major outbreaks.  However, based on the statistics it is my opinion that if there was more regulation on training food handlers we would see a dramatic decrease in the over all numbers.

Just the other day,  a friend that generally smirks at my steadfast demand for food safety  finally understands why I have such high standards.  At a local grocery chain he was purchasing shrimp.  At this particular store the deli counter employees assist in the seafood department as well. The deli / seafood person came to the seafood side wearing gloves. They reached in with the gloved hand and placed the shrimp in a bag.  He started to walk away when all my speeches  about glove use must have started ringing in his head.  He wondered, “if she didn’t change her gloves before helping me I wonder if she will change them now.”  He watched as she walked right back to the lunch counter and started slicing lunch meat.  He indicated she even saw him watching her and apparently it never occurred to her to wash her hands and change the gloves.

Was this employee never trained?

Did the employer assume hand washing is common sense?

Did she just not understand the risk she created because it was never explained properly?

My guess would be she was told about procedures but never taught proper methods and WHY it is so important to provide great service while preventing cross contamination by having good personal hygiene.  When I train managers and employees I make sure they understand WHY it is so important to engage in proper food safety techniques.

What can employers do today?  Train your staff!  It does not have to be the 16 hour food safety manager training course.  We offer a 2 hour employee training that is tailored to your facilities needs.