Should I (or anyone) eat this? (Special disease-transmission edition!)
August 15, 2016 11:21 AM   Subscribe

A cake was made last Wednesday in a household where someone came down with norovirus that day. Said cake was frozen on the same day, and is set to be eaten today by various family members. I have determined that I personally will not consume any -- is this paranoia or reasonable caution?

Over the past week, 4 people (2 in each of 2 households) I know have come down with norovirus. The timeline went something like this:

(1) Monday: Person A (of household 1) gets sick
(2) Tuesday: Person B (of household 2) makes cake
(3) Wednesday: Person C (of household 2) gets sick; Person B summarily puts the cake in the freezer.
(4) Thursday: Person D (of household 1) gets sick
(5) Friday: Person B (the cake-maker) gets sick

FWIW, I and my SO don't live with any of these people; they're local relatives.

Cake is set to be served in household 1 today (Monday). Persons A, B, C, and D will all be in attendance. Of course everyone who has had noro recently will be fine, but anyone who hasn't is, in my estimation, at high risk of becoming ill.

Even with scrupulous hand-washing and whatnot on everyone's part, from what I know of norovirus transmission, it seems like those of us who have thus far been spared should cut our losses and go cakeless. CDC guidelines suggest that people with noro can still be very contagious up to 72 hours after they feel better.

Person B believes that since they froze the cake before they themselves became symptomatic, the risk is trivial. They're not offended by my stated plan to decline the invitation, but still…I would like to get some calibration data. My partner plans to attend and while obviously that's his decision to make, I can't help be slightly anxious about the potential for him to become the next transmission vector. So essentially, my question is - am I being irrational, or just following reasonable guidelines per the CDC?
posted by aecorwin to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your personal comfort is as valid a reason to not eat the cake as a comprehensive answer from science on whether or not it's infectious.

Personally I would not eat this cake either, because I have strong disgust reactions to illness-related stuff and because I have some (partly rational partly irrational) contamination anxiety. But my decision not to eat the cake isn't based on how rational my disgust/fear of contamination reaction seems in the context of the situation, it's based on managing my personal comfort levels.

It's hard to get a definitive answer on whether or not the cake is infected, but it's been close enough to enough people who got sick around the same time to assume that there is at least some risk. You already know you don't want to eat it; if other people want to, in light of the fact that there's likely some chance it's contaminated, that's up to them and their personal risk tolerance levels.
posted by terretu at 11:28 AM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

No cake is worth even a whiff of noro, in my opinion, but I tend to be superstitious about norovirus.

Were it me: set it on fire, bury it, never think of cake again.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:28 AM on August 15, 2016 [30 favorites]

reasonable caution

they sell replacement cakes, without norovirus
posted by thelonius at 11:29 AM on August 15, 2016 [62 favorites]

I had noro last year, and I infected people before I was symptomatic. Throw the cake away.
posted by Etrigan at 11:33 AM on August 15, 2016 [17 favorites]

The incubation period of noro maxes out at about 48 hours, so person B was probably not sick when person B made the cake


noro spreads by droplets, and those droplets get everywhere. There's a reasonable chance that some of them made it to the cake.


Since noro is a virus and not a bacterium, I don't think freezing will do all that much good to kill it. There's no water in it to explode.


The cake might be fine, but taking unnecessary risks is exactly how diseases spread. Unless this particular cake is absolutely necessary for some weird reason, I'd give it a pass.
posted by yeolcoatl at 11:33 AM on August 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

I seek out noro.

I have three small children and have discovered if you can get exposure every 4 months or so you basically get a day feeling slightly "off" and that's it. If you only catch it once a year you're down for at least a few hours of vomiting and 24-48 hours of feeling washed out and running to the loo afterwards. If it's been more than 3 years then you'd better take the week off because you're looking at 3 days of hell.

I last had exposure in May. So i would eat the cake and potentially feel off for a day, and feel smug at having cheated the little horror once more.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 11:35 AM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

i would not eat the doodoo cake since other uninfected cake exists in the world.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:49 AM on August 15, 2016 [18 favorites]

Noro virus survives freezing. And as Etrigan said, you're contagious before you know you've been infected; the cake-maker is thus very suspicious.

I would not eat this cake, and I'd frankly insist that my husband/partner not eat this cake. Given that cake-maker was sick just 3 days ago, I'm not even sure I'd be going.
posted by Dashy at 11:52 AM on August 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

Also worth your consideration: all the people you and your SO might infect even if your own symptoms are mild.

Anyway, Typhoid Mary was a cook who refused to believe it was that big a deal, and people died. Just say no.
posted by SMPA at 11:53 AM on August 15, 2016 [12 favorites]

I wouldn't even go to the household of someone who had noro that recently. That sucker lives on surfaces for longer than you would think. My dad had noro, we bleached the daylights out of everything, and a week later my visiting aunt got it. Obviously I can't prove that my dad was the vector for her case, but seriously... stay away.
posted by delight at 11:56 AM on August 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

OK, I definitely feel more confident in my decision to nope out on this cake thing. FWIW, I'm also not planning on visiting either of the recently-infected households for at least another week personally. SO was planning on going to cake night alone.
posted by aecorwin at 12:12 PM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Unless it's an irreplaceable part of a religious ritual (and I mean irreplaceable - touched by the pope, emerged from a time capsule, or brought home from being cooked at a sacred volcano), I really think it's irresponsible to eat something that will probably make you sick. Not just for you, but because not everyone you (or even your SO) might potentially infect will have free health care and consequence-free vacation/sick days.

Please, everyone, use common sense with this stuff.
posted by amtho at 12:16 PM on August 15, 2016 [14 favorites]

Not only would I not eat the cake, I wouldn't go to their house and if your SO is going I'd tell them to get a hotel room until the risk of passing it on to you is over.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:31 PM on August 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

Can you persuade your SO to sit this one out? If they go, get norovirus, and expose you to it, it will basically be as if you never took any precautions to begin with.
posted by delight at 1:09 PM on August 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

I wouldn't go to their house for more than a week if I was you. And when you do, sneak Lysol wipes in your purse next time you visit them and blitz the front doorknob, bathroom doorknobs, taps and toilet when nobody's looking. Seriously.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:11 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just to give you a sense of where I'm coming from on this, I have a very strong immune system, and I haven't come down with norovirus since I was like 10, even though my previous roommate got it a couple times when we lived together, and even though I work with kids who are basically germ factories. And I would say I'm average at best when it comes to things like avoiding contamination.

I would still absolutely not eat this cake. I would also strenuously push for my SO not to eat this cake. I think not going over there at all is perfectly justified, and if you do go, don't eat any food that has been in any way prepared by one of these households. And if you do go, wash your hands early and often. Treat every surface like it's contaminated. I think it's more than fair to request the same of your SO, since if they get infected, it's basically the same as if you had gone as well.

Is anyone aside from A, B, C, D, you and SO invited to this event? Because I really don't think any of these people should be hosting anything this week (unless it's only for already infected people), let alone serving food that was made within this time period.

Norovirus really sucks, not just for the person who has it, but for everyone else they come in contact with. On a number of occasions, I have been fortunate enough not to get sick even when everyone else around me is sick, but I still try to be cognizant of the fact that I could be a vector, and I act accordingly.

tl;dr: You are being completely reasonable and not at all irrational.
posted by litera scripta manet at 1:25 PM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think it's very strange that they haven't postponed the event, to be honest. I would never invite people to my home, particularly not to eat, that soon after a norovirus outbreak in the house. Maybe they don't quite understand how norovirus works and how long it lingers on surfaces?

I'd ask your SO to stay home with you. Bake a cake if you want.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:30 PM on August 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

Oh, and if this is the kind of thing where you or your SO feels like they need a specific excuse not to attend, you have this internet stranger's permission to make up whatever excuse you want, such as, "I have a big presentation at work/significant life event/etc coming up, so I absolutely can't risk getting sick." Or you could lie and say you think you might be coming down with something to.

But it's totally fine to be honest and say, "This is a flagrant health hazard no thank you."

If you think they would be able to hear this without having it become a huge thing, maybe one of you could gently point out that maybe this event should be postponed or at the very least held at someone else's house without the recently sick people in attendance (depending on the purpose of this visit and the number of people involved). They may just not know any better, because I feel like most people who are aware of how norovirus works would not consider hosting or attending this event under these circumstances.
posted by litera scripta manet at 1:37 PM on August 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

One the one hand, none of the people we had over less than 24 hours before our household erupted in norovirus got ill. (It was a party, there was cake and little kids, germs were certainly exchanged! Though not norovirus, that came from a known vector the day before.) So despite being made in a house of rapidly multiplying germs, the cake might really be fine, or at least not have any norovirus baked in.

On the other hand: we infected two non-members of our household who visited several days later, knowing there had been norovirus. They tried to wash hands, and this was AFTER bleaching and Lysol wiping everything. (Twice. Did you know that some bleach is made at not-disinfecting strength?) So there is no way I would set foot in that house anytime soon.

The two non-household-members did at least avoid spreading it to their respective spouses and households, though (through strict hygiene and quarantine). So there is (some) hope for you if you can't prevail upon SO to stay home.
posted by puffyn at 2:00 PM on August 15, 2016


And while I'm practically the captain of Team EatIT, I would not eat food at these houses. Seriously, these people would be on my "eat before we visit" list.
posted by 26.2 at 2:03 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would not eat the cake.

I wouldn't go near the houses or people in them for awhile either. People with noro are contagious for days to WEEKS after they start feeling better and surfaces are VERY hard to disinfect properly, as puffyn attests.

But I land in the hospital every time I get noro, so my risk tolerance is pretty low in these kinds of situations.
posted by congen at 5:32 PM on August 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

NOOOOOOOOOOOO. God, no. No. No no. Norovirus is wretched. Do not risk it. No cake is worth norovirus.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 7:42 PM on August 15, 2016

I'm with 26.2 - I work with sick people all day. I totally cut mold off food and eat it, flagrantly ignore CDC guidelines on refrigeration durations and safe temperatures, and I've been known to use the "5 second rule" in the anatomy lab locker room. I rarely ever get GI illnesses.

I don't think I'd even want to go to this cake party, though. Norovirus is a nasty thing, it's worth being more cautious about. This just sounds like crossing the line into "asking for it" territory.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:29 PM on August 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

Omg please come back next week and assure us that neither you nor SO got noro!
posted by vignettist at 8:46 PM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Initial update: SO went to cake party (to be fair to him, I never asked him not to, basically because I chickened out). I did not go. Now...we wait. I will absolutely update in a few days, hopefully with good news!

In the meantime, I have stocked bleach spray, paper towels, nitrile gloves, and am considering sacrificing a goat as I hope for the best...
posted by aecorwin at 8:50 PM on August 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Update all of us morbid scientists!!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 4:54 AM on August 16, 2016

It's too late, but I want to add to the chorus of people saying avoid this cake and this household at all costs for a while. Also, a pregnant friend recently tipped me off to the surprisingly effective powers of Nauzene, and it's quite amazing for an OTC anti-emetic. If I were you, I'd stock up just in case. But good luck. I will literally be praying for you.
posted by witchen at 7:36 AM on August 16, 2016

We're still A-OK here as of Wednesday AM. SO has entered the critical 30-48 hour incubation window, though, so no relaxing until at least tomorrow...
posted by aecorwin at 10:27 AM on August 17, 2016

Right, I'm going to tentatively declare victory - I am pleased to announce that Spewmageddon has not descended upon our household, as of 72 hours incubation!

I still stand by my no-cake decision, but I am beginning to wonder if SO and I might fall into that 20% of noro-resistant folks. Neither of us has had it in the 16 years we've been together.
posted by aecorwin at 7:56 PM on August 18, 2016

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