Pubs warned after shellfish blamed for Fat Duck food poisoning

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food poisoning, The fat duck, Food, Seafood

Pubs and restaurants are being warned to check their procedures for handling shellfish in the wake of the report into the outbreak of food poisoning...

Pubs and restaurants are being warned to check their procedures for handling shellfish in the wake of the report into the outbreak of food poisoning at Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck restaurant earlier this year.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has confirmed that norovirus, spread by shellfish which were contaminated with human sewage, was behind the outbreak of diarrhoea and vomiting which affected more than 500 customers and staff at the acclaimed restaurant in Bray, Hertfordshire, during January and February.

The HPA has warned that "norovirus is an important cause of food poisoning and is easily spread so there needs to be scrupulous attention to food and personal hygiene especially when handling shellfish".

At the Fat Duck, the investigation found that oysters were served raw; and razor clams may not have been properly handled or cooked.

Tracing the shellfish back to the suppliers showed evidence of contamination, and there have been reports of illness in from other establishments which served oysters from the same source, from the river Colne in Essex.

Razor clams, which showed lower levels of norovirus contamination, originated in the Netherlands.

The outbreak continued for at least six weeks because of ongoing transmission at the restaurant.

This may have occurred through continuous contamination of foods prepared in the restaurant or by person-to-person spread between staff and diners - or a mixture of both.

The restaurant co-operated with the investigation, but the HPA said it found weaknesses in its procedures including a delay in notifying the authorities and staff working when they should have been off sick.

HPA South East regional director, Dr Graham Bickler, said: "This investigation has 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.

"Individuals infected with norovirus can readily transfer the virus onto foods they prepare."

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