by Marion Nestle
Mar 14 2013

Food safety problems can happen anywhere, even Noma

I was interested to read in Food Safety News last week that Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant ranked as the world’s best, was the site of a norovirus outbreak that affected a large proportion of its customers.  

I tweeted something about this and was contacted immediately by Lisa Abend to correct errors in the story.  Her careful, highly detailed account in Time describes what happened and why. 

Noma immediately issued its own explanation, notable for providing much information beyond the usual “we regret.”

Since receiving the news, we have been working closely with The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration to find the source of the problem. As a result of our collaboration, we have determined the most likely cause of illness was Norovirus, which may have been brought in by a member of staff, who was symptom-free.

Noma even made the health inspector’s report easily available.

Did it lose customers over this incident?  Hardly.

I’ve not been to Noma, but I would love the chance to eat there.

The short-term lessons here are worth noting:

  • Transparency helps.
  • Cooperating with health authorities helps.
  • Fixing the problem helps. 

The long-term lessons are also worth pondering:

  • Food safety problems can happen anywhere.
  • Food safety has to be a priority for any place that makes or serves food.
  • Make sure employees wash hands frequently.
  • Pay employees to stay home while sick.
  • Make sure employees have health care coverage.

Without these actions, even people eating at expensive restaurants are at risk of norovirus and worse.

  • MN

    Perhaps. However, at $250.00 per plate effete diners at Noma will be delighted to find their vomit and diarrhea (normally odorless, of course) temporarily imparts a playfully intriguing bouquet.

  • I’m pretty sure that Mcdonalds has had some issues in that department as well, but it still remains the number one fast food in the world. Why am I not surprised…

  • Laura Collins

    It always scares me whenever I see viral outbreaks and other unhealthy things at restaurants. It feels like it isn’t safe to eat anywhere

  • Anna

    These must be the same elitists who aspire to lord it over common people, dictating what they can eat, how much and when.

  • brainmatters

    As to hand washing: I have witnessed way too much totally improper washing at restaurant wash rooms, clinics, coffee shops, and more.

    I have yet to see any employee washing the way I was taught in the class I took to get a food permit when I worked at a small artisan bakery.

    Even when they use hand sanitizer at the clinic (NOT a substitute for hand washing, but a second choice, I was taught–although some clinics permit it between a specified number of hand washings) they barely use it, not even moving their hands around, but just rubbing their palms together a bit.

    When I mention it, I am always looked as though I am unreasonable. Yet when I read articles about hospitals that have nearly eliminated infection, it is because they have instituted rigorous and enforced hand washing. The nurses at the clinic always whine that their hands get “too chapped with washing”. Sorry, use lotion or find an acceptable solution, but quit cheating.

    There is no use putting up signs in restaurant bathrooms telling employees to wash from what I have seen, as most give their hands a cursory rinse and grab a paper towel on the way out–same thing at Starbuck’s with the little sinks behind the counter–they barely get their hands wet, let alone actually wash. It really is beginning to put me off eating away from home.

  • It really is scary eating out. Even the cleanest restaurants can have some issues. But there is one type of restaurant my wife and I refuses to eat at and that is a buffet. I have all kinds of nightmares about them. My father-in-law is a retired health inspector in Iowa. The stories he would tell!

  • You can never be too careful when handling and talking about food. Even the cleanest resto’s have some glitch one way or another.

  • Lee

    Unfortunately there will always be an element of people who are not going to adhere to hygiene standards and there will always be a fear about outbreaks of alsorts of nasties. I think we will never totally eliminate this and is something we will have to live with.

    Great post lee

  • Pingback: Food Safety Solutions At Our Restaurant Supply Store in Mesa Arizona | Standard Restaurant Supply – Mesa, Arizona()

  • I’m actually surprised we don’t hear about way more of these types of outbreaks than we do.

  • Pingback: Top 30 Health Blogs of 2012()