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Norovirus outbreak at Duluth restaurant traced to raw vegetables

An outbreak of norovirus at downtown Duluth’s Tycoons Alehouse & Eatery has been traced to uncooked vegetables served at three holiday parties on Dec. 5.

The Minnesota Department of Health has been investigating the outbreak of norovirus — which is not food poisoning per se, but rather a virus that is passed from one infected person to others, in this case through contact with food.

In this case, someone on the food prep staff at Tycoons was infected and apparently came in contact with the raw vegetables served to customers at the three separate parties, said Brad Nelson, marketing director for the Duluth-based company that owns Tycoons and other eating establishments in town.

About 30 people reported becoming ill from the outbreak.

The restaurant was never closed and management has since redoubled training and kitchen signage to remind staff to wash their hands before handling any food.

“It comes down to something that simple, that’s the way to prevent it,” Nelson told the News Tribune. “Our chef and staff cooperated with the state’s effort to find out what happened. Now the goal is to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Similar outbreaks are fairly common statewide during the holidays, state health department officials have said. The last major norovirus outbreak in Duluth occurred in December 2011 when more than 60 people became sick after eating at the Greysolon Plaza Ballroom at holiday party events. A January 2014 outbreak of a virus in Hermantown schools also may have been norovirus, officials noted at the time.

According to the state Health Department, noroviruses are members of a group of viruses called caliciviruses, formerly called “Norwalk-like viruses.” Norovirus infection causes gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach and the small and large intestines. Norovirus is by far the leading cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in Minnesota, the health department notes.

Norovirus often is mistakenly referred to as the “stomach flu,” but it’s not related to influenza. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, fever/chills and muscle aches. Symptoms usually last one or two days but during that time “people can feel very ill and vomit, often violently and without warning, many times a day,” the Health Department noted.

Symptoms usually begin 24 to 48 hours after infection, but can appear as early as 12 hours after exposure.

There is no evidence that sick persons can become long-term carriers of the virus, but the virus can be in the stool and vomit of infected persons from the day they start to feel ill for up to 14 days after they feel better.

Anyone wishing to report a foodborne illness in Minnesota should call (877) 366-3455.