According to Princeton’s Health Officer, the Nassau Inn’s Yankee Doodle Tap room restaurant received a visit from health inspectors and the health nurse on Monday, December 1 after 30 individuals reported gastrointestinal illness (GI) over the weekend following Thanksgiving. The individuals had eaten at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room.
The inspection revealed only minor issues, which Mr. Grosser said did not cause the illnesses. About 70 percent of all norovirus outbreaks are spread by food workers.
“While we can’t say definitively what virus caused the outbreak, based on the symptoms and time of onset, we suspect that it was a norovirus,” said Mr. Grosser. “One specimen was taken to a lab as part of the investigation but since it is almost impossible to pinpoint the source of the virus, which can be spread through food or by a fork, it’s important to reinforce cleaning practices.”
The norovirus is the most common cause of gastrointestinal illness (GI) and is especially common during the winter months. Because of the incidents, the health department has increased its surveillance of retail food establishments and sent out a press release with advice on ways to avoid coming in contact with noroviruses: “The Princeton Health Department has been receiving reports of increased gastrointestinal illness, which has resulted in increased surveillance of retail food establishments. Laboratory testing has not yet confirmed a specific organism at this time. Due to the nature of the symptoms and rapid onset of illness, norovirus is suspected in the majority of reported cases. Norovirus also happens to be the most common cause of gastrointestinal illness and is especially common during the winter months.”
Interviewed by phone Friday, Mr. Grosser said that “While we can’t say definitively what virus caused the outbreak, based on the symptoms and time of onset, we suspect that it was a norovirus. At this point, the issue has been taken care of at the Nassau Inn but we felt it prudent to remind people in the community that these viruses are out there and of the cleaning practices that should be in place to make sure they don’t spread.”
Asked for comment, Nassau Inn’s General Manager Lori Rabon provided a response by email: “This was an unfortunate incident and one without precedent for our organization. The Nassau Inn had well over 1000 people pass through the Tap Room during the holiday weekend, so it is difficult to identify where a virus originated. However, upon learning of the situation, we immediately worked with the Princeton Health Department towards swift action.”
According to Ms. Rabon, the hotel implements stringent food safety management systems and has numerous employees who are “ServSafe® certified,” by the highly-recognized food and alcohol safety training program of the National Restaurant Association.
“We have also implemented every suggestion given by the Princeton Health Department, and have been vigilant in disinfecting every surface that may have been contaminated throughout the restaurant and common areas of the hotel,” said Ms. Rabon. “I am very proud of how my veteran management staff worked with the health department, staff, and the public during this urgent situation, as well their efforts this past week working with the health inspectors and nurse on reminding our employees of precautions and practices.”
The most important message is one that most mothers have instilled for decades: wash your hands with hot water and soap. “For restaurants we recommend the good old fashioned practice of soap and hot water, just like your mom told you,” said Mr. Grosser. Asked about the efficacy of antibacterial hand sanitizers, he said: “Hand-sanitizers are great for moms and dads out with their kids with no access to hot water and soap but they are not effective against most GI causing organisms, including norovirus. The best way to decrease your chance of coming in contact with such stomach viruses is by washing your hands frequently, especially after toilet visits and before eating or preparing food.”
The Health Officer advises thorough cleaning and disinfecting contaminated surfaces immediately after an episode of illness by using a bleach-based household cleaner and immediately removing and washing clothing or linens that may be contaminated with a virus after an episode of illness (using hot water and soap).
According to Mr. Grosser people can become infected with the stomach virus in several ways, including: ingesting contaminated food or drink; touching surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus, and then placing their hand in their mouth; or having direct contact with another person who is infected and showing symptoms (for example, when caring for someone with illness, or sharing foods or eating utensils with someone who is ill).
Persons who are infected with a stomach virus should try to minimize their contact with others while they are ill and should not prepare food during their illness. Food that may have been contaminated by an ill person should be disposed of properly.
For more information about the norovirus please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/norovirus/. Anyone who has had symptoms of gastrointestinal illnesses after eating at a Princeton restaurant recently should call the health department to report the illness at (609) 497-7610.