Heston Blumenthal has hit back at a report claiming that many of the diners affected by the norovirus outbreak at the Fat Duck in 2009 could have been spared if the restaurant had acted sooner.
Blumenthal closed his iconic three-Michelin-starred restaurant for two weeks in February 2009 after hundreds of diners were struck down by norovirus, or winter vomiting bug. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) later released a report on its investigation into the outbreak, stating the official cause was contaminated shellfish.
Blumenthal received £200,000 compensation from insurers for lost business over the period while environmental health officials investigated.
Now a new report, published online in the journal Epidemiology and Infection, said the Fat Duck norovirus outbreak was the biggest at a restaurant ever recorded and claimed that delays in telling public health officials might have contributed to the scale of the outbreak.
"The ongoing risk from dining at the restaurant may have been due to persistent contamination of the oyster supply alone or in combination with further spread via infected food handlers or the restaurant environment. Delayed notification of the outbreak to public health authorities may have contributed to outbreak size and duration," said the report.
However, a spokeswoman for the Fat Duck hit back at the report, insisting the restaurant was satisfied with the way it responded to the outbreak.
"We strongly refute any accusations of wrongdoing," she said. "We co-operated with all parties fully and transparently and received a clean bill of health to reopen after a 10-day investigation. We also received full support by our insurers who found no fault in our practices following a report from a leading UK independent specialist."
She added: "There is still no guaranteed safety measure in place today to protect the general public with regards to shellfish and viral contamination. For this reason we still do not serve oysters or razor clams at the Fat Duck."
Last week, research from the Food Standards Agency revealed that than three-quarters of British-grown oysters contained norovirus.
By Kerstin Kühn
E-mail your comments to Kerstin Kühn here.
If you have something to say on this story or anything else join the debate at Table Talk - Caterer's new networking forum. Go to www.catererandhotelkeeper.com/tabletalk
Looking for a new job? Find your next job here with Catererandhotelkeeper.com jobs