January 27, 2023

Norovirus Sickened 173 at D. C. Cobb’s Restaurant in Illinois

A norovirus outbreak sickened 173 people at D. C. Cobb’s restaurant in McHenry, Illinois in August 2022, according to an investigation by the McHenry County Department of Health (MCDH). Two of those patients were hospitalized. The last time this investigation was updated was on September 16, 2022, when it was reported that 16 people were sick after eating at that restaurant. The restaurant is located at 1204 North Green Street in McHenry.

Norovirus Sickened 173 at D. C. Cobb's Restaurant in Illinois

Norovirus is a common cause of food poisoning. it is a very contagious virus that is spread through contaminated food, through contact with contaminated surfaces, and through person-to-person contact. Symptoms of a norovirus infection include diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting.

A cluster of illnesses was linked to that restaurant at the end of August 2022. A questionnaire was sent to patrons of the restaurant, and a case control study identified 173 people as part of the outbreak. Norovirus was identified as the pathogen, but investigators could not determine how it was introduced into the restaurant.

Susan Karras, MCDH’s Director of Public Health Nursing said in a statement, “Foodborne illness investigations are a top priority to protect the public’s health. The MCDH investigation team appreciates the cooperation from the public to bring this complex investigation to a close. The final report demonstrates the dedication and high level of work the MCDH team does every day to protect the public’s health in McHenry County.”

Patti Nomm, MCDH’s Director of Environmental Health added, “The management of D.C. Cobb’s fully cooperated with the illness investigation team and continues to work with Division of Environmental Health staff to implement additional strategies to prevent future public health concerns.”

According to the report, many dishes were associated with illness. The chicken Caesar salad, southwest chicken wrap, fried pickles with Cobb’s southwest sauce, Cobb’s nachos, salad (this includes any type of salad), the burger with grass-fed beef patty, the Thunder Burger, the Elotes Burger, and the build your own burger with avocado had a statistically significant association with illness.

In addition, an environmental health investigation found that violations that were documented include a lack of hot water at food service hand sinks, improper hand washing procedures, soiled hand towel stores on a clean food contact surface, fruit fly activity in a food storage area, soiled food contact surfaces, and no monitoring of handwashing practices by management.

Five employees worked at the food establishment during their infectious period after being ill with norovirus. Those ill employees returned to work within 24 hours of a gastrointestinal illness. Food handlers must stay away from work for 48 hours after illness symptoms subside. And there was a norovirus outbreak in the community at the time of the outbreak.

The report concludes by stating, “Regardless of the way that Norovirus was introduced into the food establishment – through inspection, observation, employee surveys, and food product flow evaluations – the Division of Environmental Health identified multiple breakdowns in critical operational procedures that created an environment where Norovirus could remain viable and be readily transferred from food handlers to surfaces, surfaces to food items or patrons, and food handlers to food items – all of which could result in illness spreading to patrons.”

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