- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

LONDON (AP) - Chef Heston Blumenthal and health officials say a virus may have caused an outbreak of illness among diners at England’s Michelin-starred Fat Duck restaurant.

The restaurant was closed for more than two weeks starting Feb. 24 after scores of diners were struck by bouts of diarrhea and vomiting. Initial reports said 40 diners had fallen ill, but the Health Protection Agency said Friday that 529 people have now reported becoming sick after eating at the Fat Duck.

Blumenthal was quoted by Australia’s Hospitality magazine as saying several members of staff and customers had tested positive for norovirus, an easily transmitted bug known as “winter vomiting” disease.

“It is categorically not food poisoning, we know that,” Blumenthal was quoted as saying.

The Health Protection Agency said it was still conducting tests to determine the cause of the outbreak but confirmed that norovirus infection had been detected in six members of staff and eight diners.

The agency said restaurant staff had continued to work while ill with the virus, in contravention of public health guidelines.

The agency ruled last week that it was safe to reopen the restaurant in Bray, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of London. It said it had given the restaurant advice on how to deal with staff illness.

The Fat Duck reopened on March 12, and Blumenthal said diners were not staying away as a result of the illnesses.

“It’s affected the restaurant big time because (we) had to cancel 800 people because of the closure but in terms of the business and people wanting to come in then no,” he was quoted as saying.

Norovirus is the most common stomach bug in Britain. Outbreaks sicken up to 1 million people in the U.K. every year, though they are usually confined to hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

The virus spreads via contact with an infected person, food, water, or contaminated surfaces. It can also survive for days in the environment.

The Fat Duck, one of only three British restaurants awarded the Michelin food guide’s top three-star rating, was named the best place in the world to eat by Restaurant magazine in 2005.

The 42-year-old self-taught chef is known for elaborate culinary concoctions such as snail porridge and bacon-and-egg ice cream.


AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng contributed to this report.



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