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Health department investigates norovirus reports

Jul 7, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The Wyoming Department of Health is investigating reports that dozens of people contracted norovirus in May after visiting Svilar's Bar and Dining Room in Hudson.

The agency noted that the presence of the virus in a restaurant does not necessarily mean the restaurant's sanitary practices are to blame. Norovirus can be carried into a restaurant by a customer, which is believed to have been the cause of an outbreak last month in Yellowstone National Park.

During the course investigation, the restaurant quickly corrected some health-code concerns noted by an inspector. Many were of the "non-crticial" variety.

Norovirus is a gastrointestinal illness that often spreads through food or water that has been contaminated by fecal matter during preparation, according to the Mayo Clinic. People also can be infected through close contact with someone who has norovirus. Shared restrooms in public places can in-crease the likelihood of contact with the virus, as can sanitary practices at campgrounds and other places where normal hygiene is interrupted.

WDH surveillance epidemiologist Reggie McClinton said he has not yet linked the norovirus outbreak directly to the restaurant.

"We're still looking at the data," he said this week. "Sometimes (it's) associated with employees, (or it can be) a patron visiting the facility. ... It's a really hearty virus."

He said around 30 people who complained of the gastrointestinal illness were included in his investigation into the Svilar's incident. He said they all experienced "severe vomiting and diarrhea" combined with stomach cramping and other symptoms.

"It's a pretty violent illness ... that can last several days," McClinton said. "It wipes them out pretty much."

He anticipated that his final report on the investigation would be available within the month.

Inspection

A consumer health specialist from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture inspected Svilar's on May 10 in response to the norovirus complaints. She identified several health violations that restaurant owners addressed and corrected, according to her report.

The first finding had to do with a band saw that was not being properly sanitized before use.

"The sliding tray is scrubbed down (and) rinsed, then bleach is poured directly on the tray and wiped off," the report states. "This creates a chemical contamination on a direct food contact surface."

When she returned to the restaurant for a follow-up inspection, the specialist said a solution of bleach and water "mixed at the proper concentration" was being used to clean the band saw.

The inspector said she saw a cockroach on the floor in the restaurant's meat preparation area. There was no sign of the bug on follow-up, and sticky traps reportedly were in place to monitor and control the problem. A licensed pest control operator also is being used to address the issue, according to the WDA report.

A window in the meat preparation area reportedly was open and not properly screened to prevent insects from entering the restaurant. During her follow-up, the specialist said the window was closed and had been fitted with a screen.

A number of "food contact" surfaces reportedly were found soiled and not properly cleaned before use: the band saw, the fry cutter, dishes, bowls, pans, plates and cold plates at the bar.

"All dishes, utensils, plates and food contact surfaces shall be properly cleaned and sanitized daily and checked prior to use," she wrote.

She said all of the food surfaces listed were addressed and cleaned as required when she returned to the restaurant for a second inspection.

There also was an issue with some French fries that had been left over from the day before the initial inspection. The WDA specialist said the day-old fries were "pulled out of the walk-in cooler and not reheated at all." According to her report, the fries were placed on the serving line, and freshly cooked fries were dumped on top of them.

The inspector also found that the fries weren't being properly "held hot" on the cook line.

"They are placed in pans once cooked, then set out and held at room temperature," she wrote.

A heating lamp was in place when she returned for a second inspection, and she said she didn't find leftover fries in the cooler.

Prime rib being reheated also didn't meet statutory temperature requirements -- the inspector said the meat must reach 165 degrees within two hours of heating, but after three hours in the oven the prime rib at Svilar's had only reached 123 degrees.

The specialist said no leftover prime rib was being reheated during her second inspection.

Cold food storage also was found to be inadequate in some cases. The inspector said lettuce for salads was not being maintained below 41 degrees. "Temperature checked showed salad was at 47 (degrees)," her report states.

During re-inspection she said the bulk bin for lettuce had not been filled, but the bin and the lettuce were being stored in the walk-in cooler, where the temperature is below 41 degrees.

The specialist found that water being used for food service, drinking and preparation was being taken directly from the hand sink, which is only supposed to be used for hand washing. The issue had been corrected when she returned to the restaurant, she said.

'Non-critical' issues

She noted several "non-critical" issues. For example, the cook reportedly was wearing a towel on his hip and using it to wipe his hands after touching food items. Upon re-inspection, the cook reportedly was not wearing a towel on his hip. Non-food contact surfaces weren't being cleaned properly, she said.

"The service line closest to the (oven) has food buildup," her report states. "Cabinets on the cook line had blood and au jus sauce. Handle of the walk-in cooler is dirty due to prep staff not washing hands when handling raw meats then going into the cooler. Steam table water is dirty and appears to not have been replaced for (an) extended period of time."

Later, she said the service line area, cabinet and walk-in cooler handle had been cleaned, and water in the steam table was being replaced on a regular basis.

The cleaning solution being used to sanitize wiping cloths was not mixed at the proper concentration. That issue has been corrected.

Employees reportedly weren't marking the preparation date on products being stored in walk-in coolers. The inspector said food is supposed used within seven days of preparation. When she returned to the restaurant, the inspector said dates were being marked.

Finally, she said boxes of potatoes were being stored on the floor in the restaurant's back room. Later, she said no food items were found stored on the floor.

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