Thunder Bay health officials report that the gastrointestinal outbreak that sickened at least 85 people linked to three events catered by Maltese Grocery has been laboratory confirmed as norovirus, according to a Thunder Bay District Health Unit news release Dec. 21.
"We are very sorry for everyone who has been affected and we take full responsibility," say Lisa and Dave Maltese, owners of Maltese Grocery. "We are working with the Health Unit and have taken every precaution to ensure this does not happen again. We thank our customers and friends for their ongoing support through this difficult time."
The grocery store suspended it’s catering operations late last week after initial reports of illnesses in people attending social events catered by the Thunder Bay establishment.
Health officials say now that they determined the source of the outbreak, which appears to be a food handler, Maltese Grocery will be reopening catering operations. The grocer has a good inspection record and has been fully cooperative throughout the investigation.
CBC News reports that Maltese Grocery is making some additional changes to its cleaning and hand-washing procedures, including the use of new chemicals and sanitizers.
"We are confident in the steps that have been taken by Maltese Grocery," says Abby Mackie, senior public health inspector.
Earlier in May, another Thunder Bay establishment, This Old Barn, was linked to a norovirus outbreak that sickened 136 people who dined at a Mother’s Day Buffet.
Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause the “stomach flu,” or gastroenteritis in people.
The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and some stomach cramping. Sometimes people additionally have a low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and a general sense of tiredness. The illness often begins suddenly, and the infected person may feel very sick. In most people, the illness is self-limiting with symptoms lasting for about 1 or 2 days. In general, children experience more vomiting than adults do.
Norovirus is spread person to person particularly in crowded, closed places. Norovirus is typically spread through contaminated food and water, touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus and then putting your hand or fingers in your mouth and close contact with someone who is vomiting or has diarrhea.
The Health Unit would like to remind the public of the importance of proper hand washing techniques as one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of illness-causing germs. Taking 15 seconds to wash with soap and water will reduce your risk of getting a cold, the flu and other common infections.
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