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Illness closes Bravo eatery

Workers scrub restaurant as reported cases climb to 280

Bravo Cucina Italiana is expected to stay closed through the weekend as workers sanitize the restaurant and health officials await test results.

The Eastwood Towne Center eatery voluntarily shut down Thursday afternoon after dozens of patrons reported symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue and headaches. By 4:30 p.m. Friday, the number had climbed to 280.

Health experts still are trying to determine what caused the illness. Restaurant officials want to spend at least a weekday working with them to ensure any problems are fixed.

"The cycle isn't complete until we get the health department to look over our shoulder," said Pam Ritz, spokeswoman for Bravo Development Inc., in Columbus, Ohio, which owns the local restaurant.

Whatever bug infected patrons, it hit hard.

"I've never been that sick for that long," said Marcia Tanner, 60, of Okemos, who reported to health department officials that she got ill after eating a flat bread pizza May 6.

"It was horrible," she said, of her illness.

All day Friday, restaurant workers scrubbed the Bravo interior, trying to cleanse it of whatever had caused the gastronomic mayhem.

Bravo officials said workers were scouring everything - from counters to door handles.

They were steam cleaning carpets.

They were throwing out every scrap of food, including what was in the freezer.

"You want to go from the front of the restaurant to the back and eliminate all variables," Ritz said.

Waiting for test results

The health department, meanwhile, is awaiting the results of tests that should determine what made people so sick between May 3 and when Bravo shut its doors Thursday.

Those who got sick tended to exhibit symptoms 24 to 48 hours after eating at the restaurant.

Tanner though, noted that she became ill just a few hours after sharing the pizza and side salad with her husband and two friends, all of whom also became ill.

Health officials first learned of the Bravo problem May 6 when a patron called an after-hours hotline.

An inspector was dispatched that day to observe how Bravo workers washed their hands and handled and stored the food.

"We didn't find anything concerning," Ingham County Health Department spokeswoman Natasha Davidson said.

The calls, however, kept coming. Now health officials are simply trying to sort through the reports.

They're trying to find some common element that links all of the cases. Maybe there was a specific drink or a food.

Tanner never set foot inside the restaurant.

Her friends had picked up the pizza as a takeout and brought it to her house.

Health officials, however, say they haven't ruled out anything.

Bravo was inspected twice in 2005 by the health department.

It had eight critical violations in December. Four of them had to do with food handling. There were 36 critical violations in May 2005, five of which had to do with food.

The Bravo case is Ingham County's first of a restaurant illness for the calendar year, Davidson said.

Eaton County, though, has had two recent food-related illness cases.

Past area cases

In April, at least six people reported falling ill after eating at a Wendy's restaurant in Grand Ledge.

In January, a norovirus-like outbreak was blamed for sickening 430 people who ate at Carrabba's Italian Grill in Delta Township.

"We're kind of leery about eating anywhere right now," Tanner said.

That's exactly the kind of talk that restaurateurs don't want to hear going into what should be a boon weekend for business.

"Mother's Day is one of the biggest days of the year as far as restaurants go," said Andy Deloney, with the Michigan Restaurant Association, which has 4,000 members.

Tanner was feeling better by Thursday. She even said there was one bright spot in her ordeal: Going down, the pizza was great.

"It was very good," she said.

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