Norovirus: How to protect our team and business

On the 9th of March 2023, the UK Health Security Agency warned that Norovirus rates are running at the highest level for over a decade. Norovirus can have a huge impact across the hospitality sector, from the disruption of the team being off ill to large-scale outbreaks across multiple sites, forcing businesses to close.

So, what is Norovirus and what can you do to reduce the chance of it impacting your business?

Norovirus, sometimes referred to as the ‘winter vomiting bug’, causes diarrhoea and vomiting, and may also cause a high temperature, headaches, and aching arms and legs. It is more common in winter, although it can be caught at any time of the year.

It is highly contagious and can be spread from person to person or through surfaces contaminated with vomit or feases. Norovirus can be very unpleasant but will usually clear up by itself in a few days.

What measures can you put in place to protect your business

Good hand hygiene

Regular handwashing will reduce the risk form Norovirus. Hands should be washed regularly with warm running water and soap. Unfortunately, alcohol-based hand sanitisers are not effective in killing Norovirus as they are enclosed in a structure called a capsid, protecting the virus.

Stop ill team members from coming to work

Ensure that food handlers who are suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting must be excluded from food handling duties for 48 hours after their last symptoms. As Norovirus is highly infectious, it is recommended that any team member suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting should be excluded from the workplace.

Effective cleaning

Ensure that your disinfection chemical is effective against Norovirus. This can be done by checking if it complies with EN 14476 and/or if it makes specific claims about being effective against Norovirus on the label or other literature. Remember, disinfectants are only effective if the concentration of the chemical and contact time are followed. Your team must know, and demonstrate, that they know how to dilute the chemical (if it comes concentrated) and how long it must be left on the surface to be effective. Any food within a close distance of a person vomiting must be disposed of. It only takes a few hundred Norovirus to make someone ill and the likelihood of the illness is significantly increased if food is contaminated directly.

Team accommodation

Be extra vigilant where colleagues share accommodation, if this is the case then extra hygiene controls should be adopted. If possible, the ill team member should use separate bathroom facilities and should be in a separate room. If this is not possible, then higher levels of cleaning should be followed and the need for good hand hygiene reiterated.

Wash laundry thoroughly

Items should be washed at the highest temperature recommended for them and a detergent should be used. If your business uses a laundry service, then their requirements for handling soiled linen must be followed. Soiled laundry should be handled as little as possible. Disposable gloves and aprons are recommended, and hands and forearms must be washed thoroughly after handling soiled laundry.

Minimise mixing of teams

For multi-site operators, look to reduce the movement of teams between sites and reduce staff gatherings at this time. With team shortages caused by Norovirus, it is understandable that businesses would want to move teams into support. Unfortunately, this can lead to more team members becoming ill and then taking the virus back to their workplace. It is recommended that the movement of your team, including visits from the support team, are kept to an absolute minimum. This action will reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading between sites.

The latest Norovirus outbreak understandably is a daunting and challenging time for hospitality, but we are here to help. Ensure you follow all appropriate steps to prevent and avoid the spread of the virus and don’t hesitate to contact us for help.   

Existing Shield Safety clients can access expert, practical advice on all food safety, fire safety, and health & safety issues via our advice line with qualified EHPs. Simply call 020 3740 3744, option 4. 

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Rob Easton


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