Editor’s Platform: Health officials should report which restaurant is linked to the outbreak


I have to admit that in 30 years of working on food safety, I rarely remember any health department hiding the source of an outbreak from the public – even norovirus.

I remember a story about 10 years ago – After Food Safety News reported that Taco Bell was the mysterious “chain A restaurant” linked to an outbreak of Salmonella that sickened 68 people in 10 states, ABC Evening News praised Food Safety News for shedding light on this story and on the issue of government’s lack of transparency when companies make people sick. Other news outlets, such as the LA Times, Reuters, Daily Mail, The Consumerist, CBS News, Huffington Post, Fox News and MSNBC, also praised Food Safety News for bringing the mysterious taco restaurant to light. More recently, Barry Estabrook wrote an article for The Atlantic detailing Food Safety New’s muckraking skills, but he praised me and not the people who did all the work.

The San Luis Obispo Tribune reports that a norovirus outbreak originating at a North County restaurant has sickened nearly 100 people, according to the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department. SLO County Public Health Epidemiologist Jessie Burmester said 97 people were reported sick in a confirmed norovirus outbreak earlier this month. Burmester said the public health department traced the “unusual and very large community outbreak” to a restaurant in North County, although she did not reveal the name of the business.

“When we’re doing our investigations, we’re really looking for a common source or point of exposure,” she said. “Individuals have provided the restaurant name consistently for all who have reported on behalf of the 97 individuals so far.” Burmester said the Public Health Department had reached its outbreak threshold — two cases reported in separate households — on May 15. That day, the agency received more than two reports about the same source of exposure, she said. A follow-up investigation showed some people had norovirus symptoms linked to that facility as early as May 11, Burmester added.

Once identified, the public health department began working to help eliminate the spread by pushing ‘mass cleaning and disinfection’ of the restaurant, as well as trying to track where the cases originated. . The restaurant in question has been cleaned three times since the outbreak was first reported, she said. “This outbreak has been particularly difficult,” Burmester said, “but it’s not abnormal to see norovirus spreading like this, because it doesn’t take a lot of virus to spread.”

Norovirus is a nasty insect.

Noroviruses are estimated to cause 23 million cases of acute gastroenteritis (commonly known as “stomach flu”) in the United States each year, and are the leading cause of gastroenteritis. Additionally, norovirus outbreaks may be the most common foodborne illness outbreaks. Noroviruses can cause prolonged epidemics due to their high infectivity, persistence in the environment, resistance to common disinfectants, and difficulty in controlling their transmission through routine sanitary measures.

Norovirus is transmitted primarily by the fecal-oral route and less than 100 norovirus particles would be required to cause an infection. Transmission occurs either from person to person or through contamination of food or water. Transmission can occur by:

Touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus, then placing that hand in your mouth
Having direct contact with another person infected with norovirus and showing symptoms
Sharing food or utensils with a sick person
Exposure to vomit spray
· Consuming food contaminated by an infected food handler.

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