Permits not required for food handlers at norovirus outbreak locations

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. -- After a number of recent outbreaks of norovirus in Johnson County, you should know there are some big differences in the requirements for food handlers compared to other parts of the Metro.

All food handlers in Kansas City and Independence, Mo., and Leavenworth, Kan., are required to take a class on food handling safety, pass a test, and earn a permit. Jackson County, Clay County and Platte County have similar requirements within 30 days of employment, for anyone to handle food.

“We want to give them a basic understanding of how diseases are transmitted through food or the food handling process and ways they can avoid transmitting those illnesses to customers,” Becky Steiner, Clay County's Environmental Health Protection Section Manager, said.

In Johnson County in the past month nearly 700 people have become ill from a norovirus outbreak at the New Theatre Restaurant, Buffalo Wild Wings and Marillac Campus of KU Hospital.

“When you have that many people who are sick there’s a great impact, people missing school, people missing work, people having to go to the hospital. So the work we do is trying to prevent that type of thing from happening,” Steiner said.

But neither the Kansas Department of Agriculture nor the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment were aware of any permit requirements for food handlers there. Instead, it is left up to restaurants to train workers themselves before regular state inspections. In Wyandotte County, they work with the Ag Department to promote food handler classes taught by the Kansas State Extension Office throughout the year, but they aren’t required.

In counties where permits are required, they are good for three years. Career restaurant worker Willie George passed the test Tuesday for a third time, but says with so much on the line the refresher course was well worth it. It is something she believes all counties should require.

“All the rules and regulations are for a reason and that is to provide food quality, safety, and everything you are supposed to do protects your customers,” George said.