I’ve been lucky to be close to some excellent projects, some of the stuff and knowledge created through these projects ends up mattering to food safety nerds – especially those who are making risk management decisions. Former NC State student Grace Tung-Thompson’s PhD project on vomit spray and norovirus is one of the most impactful. The work was carried out as part of the USDA NIFA-funded NoroCORE project led by my friend Lee-Ann Jaykus.
I’ve talked to lots of Environmental Health Specialists, retailers and food service food safety folks about what Grace and fellow graduate student Dominic Libera put together and many respond with a weird level of enthusiasm for the barf project.
Mainly because a real question they struggle with is how far will virus particles travel from an up-chuck event – knowing this, and then cleaning and sanitizing helps limit the scope of a potential outbreak. Grace’s work was published in PLOS ONE a while ago, we used it as a centerpiece for a Conference for Food Protection issue on vomit clean up in 2016 (which, maybe, could be included in the oft rumored 2017 Food Code) and the Daily Beast covered the work today.
From an individual perspective, the best you can do is get yourself far away from a vomiting incident; Jaykus recommends at least 100 feet. If you were in the middle of a meal at a restaurant and someone at the next table threw up, you’d probably be wise to stop eating, and to wash yourself and your clothes when you are able.
From the perspective of a restaurant owner, the best course of action is to do a really, really good job of the cleanup. Commercial vomit and fecal matter cleanup kits are catching on with bigger companies in the foodservice industry, says Jaykus. They provide personal protection, including disposable coveralls and respirator masks, in addition to the material required to pick up and wipe down the mess.