COVID-19 ISO Insights

Norovirus News: $25M Hot Food Fine; Frozen Fruit Also Found Guilty

May 4, 2020

By: Christopher Sirota, CPCU

As WGN9 News noted, we are not hearing about COVID-19 warnings related to food because the virus that causes it, SARS-CoV-2, cannot survive our stomach acid.

But some familiar and infamous viruses can survive and wreak havoc on humans: for example salmonella in chicken, E. coli on romaine lettuce, and, unfortunately for one major food chain, the norovirus on prepared foods.

According to PBS, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. agreed to pay $25 million in fines for causing norovirus outbreaks from 2015 to 2018 which allegedly made over 1,100 people ill, with "diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramps."

Per the article, the norovirus in these outbreaks spread because of the mishandling of food, specifically by "not keeping food at proper temperatures to prevent pathogen growth."

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "[p]eople with norovirus illness can shed billions of norovirus particles. And only a few virus particles can make other people sick."

Prior to agreeing to pay the fines, Chipotle had reportedly already spent "tens of millions of dollars" to improve its food safety program.

Norovirus in Frozen Fruit Too!

Hot buffet foods are not alone as potential sources for norovirus. The CDC released a report that identified the source of illnesses that emerged on separate cruise ships run by the same cruise line.

According to the report, from July 2019 to September 2019, some passengers on separate ships that journeyed from New York City to either Montreal or Germany and one that cruised along the eastern seaboard fell ill. The CDC's investigation determined that the stricken passengers had a commonality: they drank fruit smoothies made from frozen raspberries. The CDC further identified norovirus in the raspberries and "determined that [the cruise line's] food vendor had purchased several containers (nearly 22,000 pounds) of frozen raspberries of the same lot from a supplier in China beginning the end of June 2019 [and these] raspberries had been supplied to the entire fleet of cruise line."

Per the CDC's website, fruit can be contaminated at farms from contaminated water.

In November 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reportedly released an alert to recall all frozen raspberries traced back to that supplier.