The official cause of the outbreak of the norovirus, which forced celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal to shut his three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck restaurant last winter, has been revealed as contaminated shellfish.
Blumenthal, chef-proprietor of the iconic restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, was forced to close the Fat Duck for two weeks in February after up to 40 diners were afflicted with a mystery illness resulting in vomiting and diarrhoea. Following media coverage of the outbreak, the number of potential cases leapt to more than 500.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) today released a report on its investigation into the outbreak stating the organism responsible was norovirus "which was probably introduced via shellfish".
"Oysters were served raw; razor clams may not have been appropriately handled or cooked; tracing of shellfish to source showed evidence of contamination and there have been reports of illness in other establishments associated with oysters from the same source," the HPA report said.
The investigation focused on laboratory testing of diners with symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting; and on illness among staff; as well as the examination of the restaurant environment and food processing, handling and supply; and laboratory testing of food samples.
HPA South East Regional Director, Dr Graham Bickler, said the investigation had been "long, complex and thorough".
"It confirms the well-known risks that raw shellfish pose. Oysters and other shellfish can become contaminated with norovirus originating from human sewage, especially during winter months," he said.
"Individuals infected with norovirus can readily transfer the virus onto foods they prepare. The virus will remain viable and capable of causing illness in those foods that are not subsequently cooked…the more intensively that food is handled the more likely it is to become contaminated by infected food handlers."
Blumenthal said he was glad that the report has finally been published.
"It draws a conclusion to the closure of the Fat Duck and, more importantly, that the norovirus has been identified as the cause," he said.
"We were affected by this virus during a national outbreak of what is an extremely common and highly contagious virus. I would like to reassure our guests that they can continue to visit us with total confidence."
By Kerstin Kühn
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