Five tips to help your family avoid gastro this winter

Media release: 10 July 2015

The Food Safety Information Council today released five tips to help consumers avoid the spread of norovirus, a leading cause of gastroenteritis, over the winter months. This follows recent ANU research that found there are an estimated 276,000 cases of norovirus infection on average in Australia each year, leading to 150 hospitalisations and 1 death.

Incoming Council Chair, Rachelle Williams, said that norovirus is among the top 4 known causes of foodborne disease each year.

‘Norovirus illness occurs all year round but cases peak during winter possibly because those of us living in the colder regions of Australia are more likely to stay inside in close contact allowing the virus to easily spread. Norovirus outbreaks are also common where people are in close living spaces, such as aged-care facilities, hospitals, cruise ships and community sporting events.

‘Once norovirus is contracted, a single infected person can easily spread it to many others, especially if they don’t wash their hands properly or prepare food or drink for others while they’re sick.’ Ms Williams concluded.

Following these 5 simple tips can greatly reduce the chance of you getting norovirus and spreading it to others:

  1. Wash your hands to prevent spreading norovirus – you will reduce your risk of getting norovirus (or spreading it to others if you already have it) by frequently washing your hands with soap and warm water and drying thoroughly The most important times to wash hands are after going to the toilet and vomiting, changing nappies, cleaning up vomit or faeces (poo) or attending to a sick person who has vomited, and before eating and preparing food. Don’t put your fingers in your mouth as they may have picked up a virus from an infected surface If you have gastro don’t share hand towels with others; use paper towels or your own separate hand or kitchen towel.
  1. Don’t prepare food or drink for others if you have gastro – as you can easily make the rest of your household sick as well. Do not handle or prepare food for the family or household for at least 24 hours after symptoms have stopped. The safest thing to do is to arrange for someone else in your household to prepare food and drink. If no one else is available to cook then try to prepare food that needs minimal handling such as frozen food that can be cooked in the microwave – or treat yourself and your family to a take away that someone else can serve up.
  1. Stay at home – don’t go to work, or send your child to school or childcare, if you or they have gastro because norovirus can spread rapidly. Most schools and childcare have exclusion periods and will let you know when your child can return. Remember, that if you work in food preparation, it is illegal to handle food if you have gastro.
  1. Don’t share plates, utensils or drink bottles with others – as this is an easy way to spread a virus.
  1. Take care when travelling overseas – where sanitation is suspect drink bottled water and remember to use it for brushing your teeth and avoid food buffets, uncooked foods or peeled fruits and vegetables, and ice in drinks. Outbreaks of norovirus have occurred on cruise ships so use hand sanitizer regularly and follow the instructions of the crew so your holiday isn’t spoiled.

For more information on norovirus see Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and the Better Health Channel

The Food Safety Information Council is Australia’s leading disseminator of consumer-targeted food safety information which aims to address the estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year that result in 31,920 hospitalisations, 86 deaths and 1 million visits to doctors on average each year.

Rachelle Williams was elected as Chair of the Food Safety Information Council in May 2015 replacing Professor Michael Eyles who stepped down after serving as Chair for 8 years.

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Media contact:

Lydia Buchtmann, Food Safety Information Council, 0407 626 688 or