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Large Pizza, Extra Cheese, Extra Norovirus

You can’t stand it. You open the door and generously greet the beauty you’ve been waiting a whole hour for. Your taste buds are teasing you.

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Craving the molten melted cheese topped with every one of your favorite meats and vegetables. It shines like it’s just been on a treadmill for 3 hours before landing right in your hands, in a perfectly folded box. The ten dollar and fifty cent beauty is all yours, and it’s calling your name. Nothing can go wrong, until it hits you.

The mixture of vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and a fever, all because you thought you could trust what was hand delivered to your doorstep. Instead of getting what was paid for, you’ve gotten a big pizza pie full of Noroviruses. On March 3rd, 2008, A locally owned pizza place in Overland Park, Kansas named “Pizza Shoppe” was in the middle of a huge controversy. While business hours on this day, 10 cases of a foodborne illness was reported. In response, an outbreak investigation was initiated by the Johnson County Health Department and the Kansas Department of Health.

One of those 10 cases was one of their own employees. 10 customers reported symptoms of nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting about 2 to 3 hours after eating lunch at the restaurant. The employees of the day were sent to answer a thorough questionnaire about the information on individual illness history, food consumption history and hours worked during the 7-day time period. The results came back positive. All of the specimens that were taken from the sick people came back positive with a food borne illness called Norovirus Gastroenteritis.

So where did it come from? What caused it to be such a violent outbreak? An inspection was carried out by the Kansas Department of Health on March 4th, 2008. After an initial walkthrough of the business, the biggest culprits were two dented cans of pizza sauce that are used to make the pizzas every day, no “use by” dates on any food items, and employee bare hand contact with ready to eat foods and toppings. The biggest culprit of all would have had to be bare hand contact with the foods and the employees.

Since one of the employees reported symptoms of Norovirus Gastroenteritis as well, this might of single handedly caused the ten others to get sick as well. A sure sign of a physical contamination, at its finest. A norovirus is a type of virus that can be caused by tainted water, or human fecal matter. The symptoms to this virus include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pains. Although, this virus cannot multiply in food, it can be carried into the food by bad food handling habits.

It can be easily prevented through sanitary food safety precautions that can be used when training employees, to reduce an outbreak from happening. There is no specific medicine to treat people with a norovirus illness. Norovirus infection cannot be treated with antibiotics because it is a viral infection instead of a bacterial one. If you have norovirus illness, you should drink plenty of liquids to replace fluid lost from throwing up and diarrhea symptoms. This will help prevent dehydration.

Consequentially, the restaurant obtained 3 health violations and was forced to change their vendor. This also caused the media to report on the restaurant negatively, and in turn, caused the restaurant business for many months following the outbreak. Thankfully nobody died but necessary sanitation precautions for employees were put into effect to ease the possibility of a future outbreak. So next time your order a pizza, take a good look into the cheese glimmering back at you. Every deliciously cheesy piece could be your last.