Thursday, May 10, 2012

Oregon norovirus traced to reusable grocery bag

There is an outbreak of norovirus and it's traced to a reusable grocery bag that members of a Beaverton girls' soccer team passed around when they shared cookies.

The soccer team of 13- and 14-year-olds traveled to Seattle for a weekend tournament way back in October 2010.

At the tournament, one girl got sick and  spent six hours in a chaperone's bathroom. Symptoms of the bug, often thought of as the "stomach flu," include vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. 

The next day, team members had lunch in a hotel room, passing around the bag and eating cookies. 
And then, the next day after that, six girls got sick.

Oregon scientists say they had picked up the norovirus from the grocery bag.

Tests turned up the virus on the sides of the bag below the polypropylene handle.
The germ can spread quickly in places like day care centers, nursing homes, and cruise ships, and reusable shopping bags

Usually, it's transmitted by direct human contact, but can contaminate surfaces. Leafy greens, fresh fruits and shellfish are commonly involved in these outbreaks.

An epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the norovirus is very difficult to control, and the best way to fight off the virus is thorough hand-washing and cleaning contaminated surfaces with a bleach-based solution.

The article by Benjamin Radford looked at reusable grocery bags in California and Arizona. They picked the bags from patrons as they entered the stores. Public unawareness of cross contamination was found to be almost universal. It is estimated that there are about 76,000,000 cases of food borne illness in the United States every year! And most are from improper handling or cooking of food.

Their conclusions and recommendations are as follows:

Consumers almost never wash reusable bags (97% do not!)
Requiring printed instructions on reusable bags that they be washed between uses or the need to separate raw foods from other food products. 
Hand or machine washing reduced the numbers of bacteria in reusable bags by 99.9%
A potential significant risk of bacterial cross contamination exists from using reusable bags to carry groceries
Bacteria were capable of growth when stored in the trunks of cars.
Large numbers of bacteria were found in every reusable bag, but none in new bags or plastic bags.
Coliform bacteria including E. coli were found in half of the bags tested.