Dozens sickened in norovirus outbreak linked to Waikiki restaurant

UPDATE: State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park told KHON2 on Thursday, Oct. 19, that the number of cases linked to this outbreak has reached 89.

Ten were employees, 79 were patrons, she said.

Only eight of the cases were confirmed by laboratory tests.

The others showed “clinically compatible illness” with symptoms consistent with norovirus, and were at Herringbone during the period in question.

ORIGINAL POST: One of Waikiki’s newest restaurants underwent a thorough cleaning after several diners got sick.

Herringbone Waikiki voluntarily closed Thursday after a string of illnesses was traced back to the restaurant.

A sign on the door read, “Unfortunately we will not open this evening and apologize for any inconvenience.”

The Hawaii Department of Health says it’s an outbreak of norovirus, which is a foodborne illness.

So far, up to 45 people have fallen ill, and officials say that number will rise.

According to a department report posted online, on Saturday, Oct. 7, at around 11:30 a.m, “three customers ordered and shared the toss salad. All three showed symptoms of nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea.”

On Monday, diners who got sick called Herringbone and the health department.

An inspector was dispatched Tuesday and observed good personal hygiene practices. No employees were sick.

The only violation was that “one of the refrigerators was out of spec,” noted Peter Oshiro, the health department’s environmental health program manager. The problem was corrected on site, and the restaurant was allowed to resume operations with its green placard.

However, more illnesses were reported Wednesday and Thursday, and by the time inspectors returned, the restaurant had voluntarily closed.

Staff threw out hundreds of pounds of food in an abundance of caution and disinfected the entire facility four times.

“Everything from about head-high to the floor needs to be disinfected, so all their food supplies, if anything was opened that could have been touched by employees has to be all discarded and thrown out,” Oshiro said. “If an open pack of napkins were there, or single-serve-use utensils, those all have to be thrown out, and all hard surfaces in the facility have to be thoroughly disinfected before food and equipment supplies are brought back in.”

“Our guests are our top priority. We wanted to make sure we did everything in our power to take care of the situation,” said Hakkasan Group marketing manager Rob Mora.

We asked Oshiro why the department didn’t shut down the restaurant after the first round of illnesses was reported.

“We really didn’t know the source,” he said. “It could be coming from customers. It could be coming from employees. It could be coming from the food supply itself.

“When you just have three people ill, sometimes you’re not really sure whether or not it is coming from the restaurant itself,” Oshiro added. “We did do a complete inspection on Tuesday, and at that time, we found that this establishment, their personal hygiene practices were very good, they all were observed washing their hands and putting on gloves before they were actually making things such as salads, so they were actually directly observed by the inspector that they were doing proper personal hygiene at the time.”

Health officials say norovirus is spread when an infected person practices poor hygiene.

“When you hear about how it’s transmitted and how easily it’s transmitted, how hearty it is in the environment, it really shouldn’t be a surprise,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park. “It’s a nasty virus in how quickly it can spread. …  As we’re piecing together the different pieces of the puzzle, it’s very consistent of what we’d expect of norovirus.”

Oshiro says the restaurant was able to keep its green placard, because only one violation was found and promptly corrected.

“The rules specifically say you get a green placard if there’s one violation or less that can be corrected before the inspector leaves the facility,” Oshiro said. “If we think this might be a norovirus incident, then it really doesn’t matter too much as far as spreading the disease whether or not the refrigerator was out of temperature.”

Herringbone Waikiki opened Aug. 2 in the new International Market Place.

It reopened to customers Sunday night, Oct. 15, after several thorough cleanings.

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