Norovirus is one of the most prevalent pathogens worldwide and one of the leading causes of Gastro.
According to the Australian government, there are approximately two million norovirus infections each year.
Further, it seems to be most common during certain times of the year, from late winter to early summer. Many public health officials believe this is because people tend to be indoors, in closed, crowded environments, during this time of year, giving the virus more chances to spread.
Of all industries, the food and hospitality industry can be most impacted by outbreaks. Norovirus is highly contagious and typically spreads when someone who has the disease touches surfaces that are then touched by others. This is a common form of cross-contamination.
Those infected usually show symptoms of the disease very quickly. For instance, several years ago, a catering company in New South Wales prepared a business lunch for a gathering of 80 people. It was later determined that one member of the kitchen staff had norovirus. Within hours of the event, 44 people reported moderate to serious intestinal disease, diarrhea, and what is termed “forceful” vomiting, all common symptoms of norovirus.
It is the forceful vomiting that can take the transmission of norovirus to the next stage. Studies have shown that contaminated droplets become airborne when someone with norovirus vomits, and the droplets can spread as much as 7.5m. As others inadvertently touch these droplets on a counter, a door handle, a light switch, and then touch their faces, there is a particularly good chance they will come down with the disease.
Cross Contamination Risks
The dangers of cross-contamination have been proven scientifically. A 2017 norovirus study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology reported that “evidence continues to mount that contaminated environmental surfaces enhance its transmission and intensify the duration and magnitude of outbreaks.”1
This is why, after one of these forceful vomiting events, proper and effective cleaning is so important. It will help reduce, if not stop, the transmission of norovirus.
Surface Disinfectant Options
However, this study also reported that “many commonly used surface disinfectants” do not entirely kill or inactivate norovirus.
This is true even when cleaning workers follow the manufacturer’s instructions and adhere to proper contact time—that is, the amount of time the disinfectant must set or “dwell” on a surface before being removed.
Looking for alternatives, the researchers tested chlorine bleach at exceedingly high concentrations, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, according to the researchers, “this is an unrealistically high concentration for routine use in commercial and institutional settings.”
They went on to say:
There is a need for more effective surface disinfectants having enhanced efficacy against human NoV (norovirus) but with reduced corrosive properties and better safety profiles.
The cleaning technology they found that best meets this challenge is an Electrolysed water disinfecting system, such as those manufactured by eWater Systems.
The researchers reported that they came to this conclusion based on the following:
Electrolysed water technology generates “potent oxidative disinfectants inexpensively and with low environmental impact.”
Electrolysed water “has been shown to have antimicrobial effects against foodborne and hospital-acquired bacterial, viral, and parasitic pathogens.”
Electrolysed water solutions with pH values between 2 and 7 “contain primarily HOCl (hypochlorous acid), a potentially advantageous feature due to the increased antimicrobial activity of this molecule relative to the active ingredient in chlorine bleach.”
Electrolysed water is safe to use and the systems are relatively easy to learn how to operate. However, this study emphasizes that cleaners must use the technology appropriately to realize its many benefits. “A mounting body of evidence continues to show that inactivating [norovirus] in food, and environmental matrices is a challenge. [However,] Electrolysed water shows promise.”
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1 Moorman, Eric, et al. “Efficacy of Neutral Electrolysed Water for Inactivation of Human Norovirus.” Applied and Environmental Microbiology 83, no.16 (2017): e00653-17.