“it’s not food poisoning, it’s likely norovirus.” Um, sometimes they are the same

According to the Dumfries & Galloway Standard (UK), a Dumfries hotel has temporarily shut after 20 patrons who ate there complained of illnesses.

Owner Aileen McGhie told the Standard she was not ordered to close the three-star hotel, and took the decision to do so herself in a bid to clean the premises from top to bottom.

She said: “A few people fell ill last week after being a guest or a diner at the hotel and we are still waiting for test results. I called environmental health myself and it is assumed it is an outbreak of the Norovirus. Rumours that it is food poisoning are completely false.

Um, Aileen, sometimes they are the same thing. While cruiseships and hospitals get a lot of press for norovirus, the majority of reported norovirus outbreaks are associated with foodservice settings or events, and have higher attack rates than other settings. While the difference between classical food poisoning might matter to you, many of the control measures are the same (reducing cross-contamination, good personal hygiene, doing a good job at cleaning up barf).

Owner Aiellen McGhie went on to say:

“Twenty people is not actually a high number considering the hundreds of people we had in the hotel that week.

It’s possible that one dish or food handler is implicated in — my guess is that not everyone ate everything on the menu. Foodborne illness cases are also consistently under reported and might contribute to the "low numbers".  And it probably doesn’t matter to the barfing customers.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.