About 60 people became sick after our annual awards banquet at the Bali Hai Wednesday night, July 29. When word of the outbreak began to spread two days later, our board contacted county health officials and the venue and started emailing attendees and members daily updates. They are listed below, in reverse chronological order. We’ll update this post as warranted.
Update 5, 8/4/15: Norovirus led to post-SPJ banquet health issues
Friends: The county of San Diego has confirmed that the outbreak was caused by norovirus G1.
Three tested specimens confirmed it. The county is currently running tests on two other people and will test a sixth, all perhaps by day’s end, but health officials are confident in saying norovirus is now the cause. Next steps? Today, county officials will conduct more interviews, focusing on people who did not get sick and asking them what they ate or touched at the banquet at the Bali Hai Wednesday night. The county’s goal is to make sure no one else will get sick at the restaurant, not necessarily to find patient zero, the person who caused the outbreak, unless it can show that person is working at the restaurant and compromising public health.
So far, only banquet attendees (about 60) have reported sick. No one else at the restaurant (patron or staff) has reported an illness.
After the county does more interviews today, it will begin to crunch and cross-reference data to see what can be ruled in or out. Possible explanations include food, touching infected objects such as silverware or chairs and attendees coming in contact with other attendees. No one can say for sure right now. If there are no reports of illness by other people in the restaurant and sick cases are limited to the banquet, the analysis may wrap up this week.
Thanks for your patience as the health experts get to the bottom of this.
President, SPJ San Diego Pro Chapter
Western region director, SPJ
Update 4, 8/3/15: Update on Food Poisoning Post-SPJ Banquet
Friends: I hope you’re all feeling better this week. The total of people reporting symptoms after Wednesday night’s banquet stands at more than 60 now.
The county investigation continues, but a spokesman says it suspects a norovirus outbreak. The Bali Hai’s manager is quoted in The San Diego Union-Tribune and Times of San Diego, as is county spokesman Michael Workman. Stories in both outlets raise the possibility that the virus may have started with a diner. Both also point out it could have originated with a food preparer. County officials told me today that some lab tests of theirs could be ready this week. If norovirus is not the cause, analysis may take longer. More information as we know it.
San Diego SPJ president
From the U-T story:
Larry Baumann, the restaurant’s manager, said Monday that news of the outbreak has been distressing.
“We feel terrible that anybody got ill,” Baumann said. “We’re working very closely with the health department and following their guidelines and procedures.”
Recent inspection reports show that the restaurant, popular for its Polynesian cuisine and sweeping views of San Diego Bay, did receive some recent scrutiny from the environmental health department.
A routine inspection on July 22 gave Bali Hai an “A” grade for food safety, but subtracted seven points out of 100 for having several types of food kept at above-recommended temperatures. The restaurant was required to discard one pound of cooked shrimp, one pound of chicken, two pounds of quinoa salad and two pounds of pork belly.
Inspectors also observed that a dishwashing machine was being used with water that had a lower-than-recommended concentration of sanitizing solution.
When inspectors returned on July 31, a new report found no problem with food temperatures but again noted that dishwasher sanitizer concentration was at 10 parts per million, below the 50 ppm guideline.
None of the findings resulted in a fine, and Workman said that all were considered minor.
It remains to be seen whether the Wednesday infection started with workers or diners.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus comes from fecal contamination, often due to a lack of hand-washing.
An infected food service worker could have transferred the virus to prepared food, or it could have been passed from diner to diner through close contact such as handshakes or touching a contaminated surface. Contamination can also occur in farm fields.
From the Times of San Diego story:
In the next day or two, he said, the county will have a better fix on the cause of the illness — which might have come from a banquet guest or someone who prepared the food before it even got to Bali Hai.
Outside the patio banquet area, no other Bali Hai customers got sick, Workman said.
Workman said the restaurant was asked to raise the sanitizer level, which was done Friday.
Bali Hai has an A grade (and 93 score) from county health officials — but three times in the past five months it was found to have “major” violations during inspections. Twice the county found a problem with holding temperatures. Once it didn’t have shellfish tags in the right place.
Update 3, 8/2/15: Food-poisoning symptoms from SPJ banquet
Here is an update on the foodborne illness investigation at the Bali Hai.
As many of you know, there have been more than 55 reported cases of food poisoning out of 170 attendees at our annual banquet Wednesday night. The county Department of Environmental Health is investigating and interviewing those of us who fell ill as well as others who did not in an attempt to isolate the problem. It intended to inspect the Bali Hai on Friday. You’ll find the county’s two-page questionnaire attached; if you attended the banquet and haven’t filled it out or haven’t already been interviewed by the county, please consider sharing your information with them. The completed questionnaires may be returned to the attention of Azarnoush Maroufi via fax at [redacted] or e-mail: [redacted]. To be interviewed by phone, call her at [redacted] during normal business hours next week.
Here’s what’s new this morning:
1) KGTV had a report on the Bali Hai last night toward the top of its broadcast. No one went on camera. They quoted “organizers” (me, I’m assuming) as saying more than 50 people had food poisoning symptoms at an SPJ banquet. They said the restaurant said people shouldn’t be worried about eating there. They didn’t specify a cause.
2) No word yet from the health department on what pathogen may have caused this. Worth noting: One person who got sick (and whose spouse did not) ate only salmon and caesar salad and guesses the salad may be the culprit. Obviously, we don’t know whether that’s the case until and unless the county tells us. For now, this information from the FDA on foodborne illnesses is worth a look: http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/ucm103263.htm
3) The people hardest hit by this seem to be on the mend. I’ve been told that several people who were treated at the hospital are feeling better, although one person became ill late yesterday and had to be transported by paramedics.
As always, any questions or concerns, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope everyone is or starts feeling better, so we can shift all our focus from the health concerns to the investigation.
San Diego SPJ president
Update 2: 8/1/2015, Foodborne Illness Questionnaire — Bali Hai, Shelter Island
A quick update and a brief request. We are now at about 55 reported cases of food poisoning symptoms, out of 170 banquet attendees.
Attached you’ll find a questionnaire from the county’s Department of Health. If you attended the banquet, whether you fell ill or not, could you please take the time to fill out the questionnaire and send it along to Azarnoush Maroufi at the county? Her email address and full message/directions are [redacted]. Alternatively, you can call her next week at the office, number [redacted].
[Attachment: Foodborne Illness Questionnaire – Bali Hai, Shelter Island]
I did an interview with her by phone last night and it took about 5-10 minutes. It’s basically questions about what I ate (salmon, pork, salad, mashed potatoes, bread) and what symptoms I have. (I’ll spare you those details.) Again, they are hoping to hear from people who are sick and others who are not reporting symptoms, so they can isolate the issue and get to the bottom of this. I still expect to hear from them next week (again, I’m not sure specifically when) about what might have caused this. I hope everyone who is sick is starting to feel better, and I hope you all enjoy your weekend.
If you or anyone you know is having symptoms but hasn’t notified us, please email me at email@example.com with names and phone numbers, and I will forward that information to the health department. Any questions, you can ping me on email, too.
San Diego SPJ president
Update 1, 7/31/15: Food-poisoning symptoms from SPJ banquet at Bali Hai
Friends: I regret to inform you that at least 30-35 of the 170 people who attended the SPJ banquet at the Bali Hai Wednesday night have reported food-poisoning symptoms to us that include vomiting and diarhhea; some stayed or went home sick today.
If you are sick as well, please email your name and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will pass the information along to the Health Department. Today officials there told me they planned to begin a food-borne illness investigation by visiting the venue and calling those of us who are sick. They requested a copy of the menu and have created a questionnaire to help determine what happened. The department expects to resolve its investigation next week, and as soon as they tell us more, we will let everyone know what happened. They don’t have a more specific timeline, and I don’t know much if anything else at this point.
We are also in touch with the Bali Hai, which is trying to get to the bottom of this.
My apologies to everyone who is sick and to everyone else whose news report was disrupted today. If there are questions, email me and I will attempt to respond in a timely way, but I am one of the people who went home early myself.
Please also pass this on to anyone else you know of who was at the banquet, in case we missed anyone with this email.
Matthew T. Hall
President, SPJ San Diego Pro Chapter
Western region director, national SPJ