The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 28, 2012

Norovirus connected to ill food service worker

Investigators narrow outbreak down to Najwa's Catering

By Robb Murray
The Free Press

MANKATO — An ill or recently ill food service worker or workers were the source of a norovirus outbreak that sickened between 30 and 40 people who ate at Mankato civic center events.

A Minnesota Department of Health spokesman said the investigation into the outbreak, which included interviews with more than 100 people, concluded recently and narrowed the outbreak down to the food service provider, Najwa's Catering.

"We had our suspicions confirmed," health department spokesman Doug Schultz said Tuesday.

Schultz also said that in this particular case it won't be possible to trace the source of the norovirus to a particular person.

More than 50 people reported being sick following a Greater Mankato Growth banquet on Nov. 13 attended by more than 460 people. The health department also received reports from people who contracted the illness after attending a civic center event for veterans on Nov. 14.

The owner of the catering business, Najwa Massad, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Schultz said that, following the outbreak, Department of Health officials conducted an "intervention" with the food service provider that included reminders of protocols to follow when employees become ill.

"We reviewed procedures so that they make sure that, for example, if they have any ill food workers, or anyone who appears to be ill, they need to screen all their food services workers," Schultz said. "With norovirus, our recommendation is that a food service worker not work for 72 hours after it's gone."

Schultz said anyone who has contracted norovirus should avoid preparing food for up to two weeks and wash hands regularly and thoroughly, up to three minutes.

With up to 40 people ill of out 460 possible victims who attended the event, Schultz said this virus was an aggressive one.

"That is a pretty high attack rate, and that's consistent with norovirus," he said.

Schultz said the city responded well to the outbreak. The city threw away opened food and thoroughly cleaned the civic center.