Food Safety Specialists STS Advice Following Wahaca Norovirus Story

mikewilliamsWahaca restaurant chain has been hit by an outbreak of norovirus, with more than 300 people reportedly having fallen ill and nine branches being temporarily closed. Four of the branches remain closed while Public Health England and the chain try to establish the cause of the infection.

Mike Williams, director of STS, says: “The fact that multiple branches of Wahaca have been closed in a way makes it harder to pinpoint the source of infection. Potential sources could include external contractors such as pest controllers, food delivery staff, auditors etc; food suppliers i.e. products which have been contaminated prior to delivery or even members of staff going between sites.

“Norovirus is a notoriously difficult organism to control and can spread incredibly quickly through an establishment. There have been a number of high profile incidents including Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant and the Oriana cruise ship which go to show that high quality doesn’t necessarily protect you from infection.

“Norovirus is very easily spread from person to person and this highlights the need for excellent personal hygiene standards. Surprising food sources can also be the reservoir of infection with items such as raspberries and oysters being implicated in previous outbreaks. As such, maintaining and monitoring the food supply chain is just part of an ongoing control process.

“Given that person to person spread is often the source of infection, it is essential that restaurants have robust personnel policies in place, making sure that staff report illness, not just to themselves but to close family members also, especially where sickness and diarrhoea are the main symptoms. This will allow restaurant management to make informed choices to help keep their establishment illness free.”