By: Pooja Sharma

Norovirus is confirmed as the cause of the outbreak at downtown Grand Ledge restaurant that sickened more than 40 people. The case reports started coming in during the last month. The first set of reports came in on November 22. The health inspectors suspected the cause to be Norovirus since the illnesses were reported to the department but were waiting for the lab results to confirm.

A spokesperson for the Barry-Eaton County Health Department, Abigail Lynch said Thursday morning that three samples that were taken from the West Jefferson eatery all tested positive for the virus. Norovirus is a vomiting bug that can cause food poisoning symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. The West Jefferson Restaurant closed on Monday, 6 days after the reports of illnesses hovered on the restaurant on November 22. These Log Jam customers reported eating there on November 19. The restaurant re-opened a few days ago.

Health Department’s Investigation and Victim’s Statement:

The November 22 reports, however, did not require the restaurant to get closed. Even the Health Department did not issue a public statement about the outbreak. Lynch reported that the Health Department did not believe that there was an ongoing threat. But the department staff did visit the restaurant on November, 22. They made sure to clean the interiors with the bleach, threw out all the prepared food and emphasized on hand washing practices with the employees at the restaurant.

But, that was the second time the department had to visit the restaurant in the last week and Tim Gill, one of the victims of this incident said that none of this would have happened if the restaurant had deep cleaned on the first visit. It might have made a difference. Tim Gill’s wife and daughter got sick the night they ate at The Log Jam restaurant in Grand Ledge. On next day morning, when he contacted one of his friend, he found out that his wife and daughter had the same symptoms. All of them ate fish and chips a night at The Log Jam before they got sick.

The Barry-Eaton Health department said they are among more than 40 victims of Norovirus. Since November 22 more than 27 additional reports have been made to the Health Department and they are still ongoing.

A person from Log Jam, who answered the phone Wednesday declined to comment on the suspected outbreak and referred all the questions to the Health Department.

A November 27 post on The Log Jam’s Facebook page reads as follows, “It seems that there has been an outbreak of a viral gastroenteritis in the community. We have consulted with the health department and they confirmed that this very contagious virus has made some people very ill in our town…Since our water heater went up in flames, and we had to close for repairs, we took full advantage of our down time to disinfect every square inch of our facility.”

Tim Gill further added, “I just think it is important for any business that experiences something like this to make sure they get the information out right away to their customers and take steps to protect their health and safety… not just the [restaurant] reputation”. And we feel, it is quite important too. The sooner people know about the outbreak, the sooner they can take the steps to get medical help.

About 34 turkeys that were served at the annual free community Thanksgiving meal at Grand Ledge were cooked in the restaurants oven on November 23. But, the turkeys were prepped and put into oven bags off-site at The Masonic Temple. None of the restaurant’s staff touched the turkey, and no one who ate the meal has reported falling ill.

How to avoid Norovirus in your restaurant facility?

Norovirus can break at a restaurant facility when the workers over there do not practice proper food hygiene. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 70% of reported Norovirus outbreaks are as a result of infected food workers contaminating food.

Therefore, it is important that all the restaurant facilities teach their employees appropriate food hygiene practices that involves not touching ready to eat foods before served, follow hand washing practices during preparation and handling of foods and staying home when sick.

Some proper food safety practices include:

  • Be sure that to have hand washing stations installed in close reach of your employees. Also, make sure that all the basins are fully equipped with soaps, sanitizers, paper towels, etc. Encourage employees to use them frequently.
  • Train employees on how to wash hands properly, i.e. to at least rub them palm to palm, fingers interlaced, palms on back of hands, etc.
  • Restrooms should be cleaned as frequently as possible. Make sure that there is someone who cleans the restroom at least twice a day. It does not matter if the bathroom is near where the food is prepared or not, it can still be a hotspot for spreading the norovirus.
  • Train all employees. Print out some safety guidelines post them, so that employees are always reminded of what practices need to be followed. All employees should know how to clean up vomit and diarrhea in a facility.
  • Do not limit the planning to your kitchen alone. You should take into account other areas such as storage areas, dining areas etc. where the food is handled or stored. All of these places needs to get sanitized too.
  • Use proper disinfectants for washing hands, cleaning toilets etc. Your employees should know how to properly use these chemicals.

Norovirus is extremely contagious. It is sometimes, even called out as the most contagious pathogen on the Earth. As few as 18 virus particles are enough on person’s food or hands to make them sick. Number of Norovirus particles that fit on a pinhead are enough to infect more than 1000 people. The most contagious stages when the people can transfer the virus is when they are experiencing symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. But, the contagiousness is still present during the incubation period and when they start feeling better.