Three Michelin star restaurant, The Fat Duck by Heston Blumenthal, which offers unusual dishes such as salmon poached in a liquorice gel and snail porridge, closed its doors in February 2009 after serving infected oysters, which “exceeded any other commercial restaurant-associated norovirus outbreaks”.
A study by an academic journal by Cambridge University Press, Epidemiology and Infection, says that it was only reported to the Health Protection Agency 6 weeks after the first suspected case.
It was only after The Fat Duck received 66 complaints of the illness, when they contacted the authorities, the journal said.
The journal suggested that if the restaurant had acted sooner, many of the 240 people who were infected, may have been spared the illness, gastroenteritis, caused by norovirus, which leads to diarrhoea and vomiting.
Raw shellfish that had been contaminated with sewage was eventually blamed for the outbreak.
The Report said, “The size and duration of this outbreak exceeded any other commercial restaurant-associated norovirus outbreaks in published literature. It is hoped that lessons learned from this outbreak will help to inform future action by restaurateurs especially in early notification to public health authorities once an outbreak is suspected. It is also notable that diners may often choose to inform restaurants directly rather than their doctors or public health authorities. It is important that both diners and restaurants are provided with better information about whom to inform and when to inform once an outbreak of illness is suspected.”
The outbreak led to the quick release of updated guidance to the food industry by the Food Standards Agency in 2009, which covers issues such as the management of staff illness.
A survey found more than three-quarters of British-grown oysters contained norovirus, which last week, led to the reminder to elderly people, pregnant women and vulnerable people with health problems, of the risk of eating oysters, by the Food Standards Agency.
The incident has not affected The Fat Duck’s UK restaurant insurance, after they found no fault in their practises, nor has the incident had an effect on the number of diners booking tables at the restaurant. Earlier in 2011, Heston said that the restaurant was attracting tens of thousands of calls a day from people who wanted to book a table.
A spokesperson for The Fat Duck said, “The reported illness in February 2009 at the Fat Duck was confirmed as oysters contaminated at source by norovirus. At the time we voluntarily closed the restaurant and called in the authorities. We co-operated with all parties fully and transparently and received a clean bill of health to reopen after a 10-day investigation.
“We also received full support by our insurers who found no fault in our practices following a report from a leading UK independent specialist. There is still no guaranteed safety measure in place today to protect the general public with regards to shellfish and viral contamination. For this reason we still do not serve oysters or razor clams at the Fat Duck.”