After surveying produce in British supermarkets, food experts warn that some may be contaminated with norovirus. Also known as the “Winter Vomiting Bug,” norovirus is highly contagious and causes acute gastroenteritis (illness of vomiting and diarrhea). Symptoms are similar to the flu (fever, chills, headaches, fatigue, etc), but they don’t respond to the same preventive treatments; if you’re vaccinated for the flu, you aren’t safe from norovirus.
Infections can pass easily from person to person. However, the most common way the virus spreads is through raw or undercooked produce. The best way to prevent contracting the winter bug is to properly wash fruits and vegetables before eating them. The warnings from British food experts should also apply to everyone around the world—better safe than sorry.
Experts from the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) examined certain regularly-bought produce, and they found a significant percentage of them containing norovirus: one in every 20 heads of lettuce, one in every 27 bags of frozen raspberries. The FSA stated that their detection of the winter bug suggests that food hygiene guidelines are not strictly adhered to. As a consequence, the contamination can spread down the food chain: restaurants could use contaminated fresh produce used as ingredients. Other than fruits and vegetables, the FSA’s research has also found that shellfish are also more likely to contain the virus because of the sewage pumped into the sea.
While there are certain aspects beyond our control, we can still protect ourselves from contracting the winter bug. Proper practice of food and general hygiene is the most effective way to do so. Washing raw fruits and vegetables thoroughly is key, and this isn’t hard to do. Ensuring a thorough cook of meat or shellfish is also vital. Washing your hands regularly is a small task, but it’s very effective in preventing illness. Simply using alcohol-based cleansers like hand sanitizers are not as effective as a thorough wash with soap and water.
These practices may seem too simple, but they are the most effective in preventing not only contracting norovirus, but any bugs in general. We cannot control other people’s hygiene practices, but we can control ours. So if you feel like you’re too lazy to wash your hands or wash all your produce, just imagine a winter bug lurking somewhere in there.