Introduction: Norovirus is the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis and foodborne disease in the United States, causing an estimated one in 15 U.S. residents to become ill each year as well as 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths, predominantly among young children and the elderly. Whereas noroviruses often spread through person-to-person contact, foodborne transmission can cause widespread exposures and presents important prevention opportunities.
Methods: CDC analyzed 2009–2012 data on suspected and confirmed norovirus outbreaks reported by state, local, and territorial health departments through the National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS) to characterize the epidemiology of foodborne norovirus outbreaks.
Results: During 2009–2012, a total of 1,008 foodborne norovirus outbreaks were reported to NORS, constituting 48% of all foodborne outbreaks with a single known cause. Outbreaks were reported by 43 states and occurred year round. Restaurants were the most common setting (64%) of food preparation reported in outbreaks. Of 520 outbreaks with factors contributing to contamination reported, food workers were implicated as the source in 70%. Of 324 outbreaks with an implicated food, most resulted from food contaminated during preparation (92%) and food consumed raw (75%). Specific food categories were implicated in only 67 outbreaks; the most frequently named were vegetable row crops (e.g., leafy vegetables) (30%), fruits (21%), and mollusks (19%).
Conclusions: Noroviruses are the leading cause of reported foodborne disease outbreaks and most often associated with contamination of food in restaurants during preparation by infected food workers.
Implications for public health practice: Improved adherence to appropriate hand hygiene, excluding ill staff members from working until ≥48 hours after symptom resolution, and supervision by certified kitchen managers are all recommended to reduce the incidence of foodborne norovirus disease.