Protecting camp guests from themselves

A youth leader stepped into the kitchen to talk quietly to my wife yesterday during breakfast service. When she relayed the message, I momentarily panicked.

He’d gotten sick. In their first meal here.

While the voice in my head convinced me we’d somehow gotten and served contaminated food — was it the sausage? was it the cheese in the hash browns — Julie was trying to explain how he’d been ill the night before.

But there was no sigh of relief. Because we still had 24 other guests for three more meals, in an environment where we now knew somebody was ill. At that point, how he’d gotten sick was no longer important.

For all the precautions you can take with your food, service and cleaning, there is no foolproof way to protect guests from themselves. All we can do is be diligent about doing our part in maintaining clean conditions while preparing food, minimize the chance for contamination while serving it, and thoroughly cleaning afterward.

It was one day I wished we did plated dining, rather than family-style (small groups like this one) or buffet.

I spent a little time today on the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s Norovirus: Facts for Food Handlers page today, which is a good resource for any of us in the kitchen, and decided to put a little more attention into sanitation issues as we prepare for the summer season, when we’ll share the dining hall with 150 little germ-spreaders.

Of specific interest from the CDC website …

Do not prepare food while ill: Many local and state health departments require that food handlers and preparers with gastroenteritis not work until 2 or 3 days after they feel better. Food handlers who were recently sick can be given different duties in the restaurant (for example, working the cash register or as a host or hostess) so that they do not have to handle food.

Practice proper hand hygiene: Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and before preparing or handling food. Noroviruses are found in the vomit and stool of infected people from the day they start to feel ill, and the virus continues to be present in the stool for as long as 2 to 3 weeks after an infected person feels better. Thus, continued care in washing hands is important in preventing the spread of this virus. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers (containing at least 62% ethanol) may be a helpful addition to hand washing, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water. For more information about hand hygiene, see “Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives.”

Take care in the kitchen: Food items that might have become contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out. Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them. Oysters should be obtained from reputable sources, and appropriate documentation should be kept in case trace back is needed. Sick children and infants in diapers should be excluded from food preparation areas.

Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces: After an episode of illness, such as vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean, disinfect, and rinse contaminated surfaces. Use a chlorine bleach solution with a concentration of 1000–5000 ppm (5–25 tablespoons of household bleach [5.25%] per gallon of water) or other disinfectant registered as effective against norovirus by the Environmental Protection Agency Portable Document Format [84 KB/11 pages].

NOTE: Evidence for efficacy of a cleaning agent against norovirus is usually based on studies using feline calicivirus (FCV)—a virus related to norovirus—as a surrogate. However, FCV and norovirus exhibit different physiochemical properties; thus, it is unclear whether inactivation of FCV by a specific cleaning agent reflects efficacy of such solutions against norovirus.

Wash laundry thoroughly: Linens (towels, tablecloths, napkins) and clothing that are soiled to any extent with vomit or stool should be handled carefully—without agitating the item—to avoid spreading virus. The items should be laundered with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.

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