Easter brunch illness is tied to employee with norovirus; almost 200 sick

Those 35 initially reported sick after an Easter brunch at Luciano’s Cotton Club restaurant at Union Station in Worcester, Mass. has expanded to at least 195 out of 580 people served that day.

Worcester Commissioner of Public Health Dr. B. Dale Magee said in a statement issued today that, “three food handlers had symptoms and one tested positive for norovirus … it is highly likely that the source of this virus was the result of direct contact from an employee who was ill. It cannot be traced to any particular food item.”

The city’s divisions of Public Health and Inspectional Services have recommended the restaurant institute a sick-employee policy. Dr. Magee provided the restaurant with a sample policy that would exclude ill employees from work for at least 72 hours after they are symptom free. Once they return, the employees would be restricted from handling kitchenware or ready-to-eat food for an additional 72 hours.

Gus Giordano, who owns the restaurant and Maxwell Silverman’s, said that the restaurants’ current policy is to have anyone who calls in sick stay out for 72 hours. He will comply with the health department’s recommendations when it comes to symptoms of norovirus, he said, but he also acknowledged that waiters and waitresses who do not get paid sick leave might not admit to being sick.

Mr. Giordano was a bit skeptical of the high number of people with symptoms. When the story about the illness first hit the newspaper, the number of requested refunds went from 33 to 233, and he believes some of the requests were fraudulent. He has given fewer than 30 refunds for the $22 brunch, he said.

“I’m sorry it happened, whether it’s one or 195,” he added.

That’s all nice, but sick food servers are a constant and continual food safety threat. Policies are also nice, but meaningless without verification.

Up to 35 sick after Easter brunch in Mass

No one wants to barf after Easter brunch.

Or any other meal.

But the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports that city health inspectors are investigating an outbreak of illnesses in patrons who ate Easter brunch at Luciano’s Cotton Club restaurant at Union Station.

Eight people have reported becoming ill to the city’s Health Department, according to Amanda Wilson, the city’s director of housing and health inspections. One person was admitted to the hospital. As many as 35 may have been sickened, she said.

“At this point, there is no confirmed case that shows this is a foodborne illness,” Ms. Wilson said yesterday. “We are treating it as some kind of communicable disease. We have not confirmed the source.”

The Health Department started receiving calls from Luciano’s patrons on Tuesday, and immediately sent inspectors to the restaurant, she said. The inspectors found two violations of the city’s food handling regulations. There was evidence of rodents on the premises, she said, and two reach-in coolers were not set at the correct temperature for the food they were storing.

The restaurant immediately took steps to correct the problems, and a follow-up inspection the next day found the restaurant to be in compliance, she said. The restaurant has been given full inspections three times in three days, she said.
Inspectors are also interviewing all the staff at Luciano’s, she said. She said that one Luciano’s staff member was apparently sick with a stomach illness in the days before the brunch. Another staff member has been sick since the brunch, according to Alex Barbosa, the restaurant’s general manager.

Gus Giordano, owner of Luciano’s Cotton Club at Union Station said the restaurant is fully complying with city health inspectors, adding, “We’re assuming it’s something airborne. This is the train station, it could have been anything. I have a reputation in this business, it’s on the line. I would put my life on it that it wasn’t food poisoning.”

What about that sick employee?

A mouse in Massachusetts: Check, please

The Telegram & Gazette reports from Worcester, Massachusetts – always from Worcester, as the Coast Guard types attempted to rescue the stranded sailors in the movie, A Perfect Storm (and it was actually Gloucester) – that Robert Vanzant had just sat down to a meal at the Happy and Lucky Super Buffet on Mill Street last year when he saw a most unappetizing sight — a mouse darting across the floor under the tables.

Then he saw another one.

“They were running through the whole store. I didn’t finish. I made them give my money back,” Mr. Vanzant recalled. “The girls who work there were running around and screaming.”

Mr. Vanzant, who lives in Sutton, called in a complaint to the Worcester Board of Health from his cell phone that day in March 2009.

Two days later, in response to Mr. Vanzant’s call (that’s responsiveness – dp), a city restaurant inspector visited Happy and Lucky and found numerous violations of the state sanitary code. His handwritten list of violations covered more than three pages.

In addition to instructing the restaurant to clean and sanitize almost every surface in the kitchen, the inspector noted in his list of requirements: “Remove cockroach infestation throughout the establishment.”

Five months later, in response to another complaint, this time about a cockroach in lo mein, a city inspector returned to the restaurant.

“Inspected establishment and found cockroaches throughout the buffet tables and found the kitchen in unsanitary conditions,” the inspector noted in his report.

While the majority of the city’s roughly 1,300 restaurants, markets, convenience stores, bakeries and other holders of food permits get high marks for cleanliness and food safety, a Telegram & Gazette review of thousands of pages of routine and complaint inspection reports found that a number of establishments fail to meet the most basic health requirements.

So at what point will the inspectors shut these places?