On May 5, 2005, the Kent County Health Department (KCHD) in Michigan received a report that members of a school staff who had attended an employees’ luncheon on May 3 had become ill with vomiting and diarrhea—symptoms of norovirus infection—after eating portions of a party-sized submarine sandwich catered by a Grand Rapids Blimpie’s restaurant. KCHD began investigating the source of the outbreak, and identified 23 of 29 school staff members who had consumed a portion of the sandwich and experienced a gastrointestinal illness 8-56 hours later.
On May 6, KCHD was notified that 55 employees at a publishing company who had attended a staff luncheon catered by Blimpie’s on May 5 had fallen ill with symptoms of norovirus. KCHD staff obtained the Blimpie’s catering log, and contacted groups identified in the log to determine whether additional illnesses had occurred subsequent to consumption of food from Blimpie’s. From its follow-up contact, KCHD learned that nine employees of a social service organization had fallen ill after a catered luncheon on May 4. In addition to those people who reported illness after eating foods at functions catered by Blimpie’s, 25 community members reported becoming ill after eating sandwiches from the same Blimpie’s restaurant. Most outbreak victims reported eating lettuce.
During the outbreak investigation, KCHD investigators learned that a food worker who had been out ill with vomiting and diarrhea on May 2 returned to work on May 3, when he was no longer symptomatic. The food worker had washed and prepared lettuce to be used in sandwiches that day.
KCHD’s environmental inspection of the Blimpie’s restaurant led to the discovery that the sink the food worker used to wash and prepare fresh lettuce for sandwiches was also used for hand washing, and that the sink was not sanitized before or after washing the lettuce, thus providing the opportunity for the lettuce to become contaminated. Although the food worker was no longer symptomatic, a stool sample submitted on May 10 later returned positive for norovirus.
Marler Clark represented several people who became ill with norovirus in claims against Blimpie’s.