A contagious stomach virus is likely to blame for sickening about 370 people who ate at an Olive Garden restaurant in Indianapolis last week, a county health official said on Monday.
Stool tests of three Olive Garden employees and one customer were positive for a norovirus, a gastrointestinal illness that causes vomiting and diarrhea, according to Marion County Health Department spokesman John Althardt.
Norovirus is “highly contagious,” Althardt said, and is prevalent in hospitals, nursing homes, cruise ships and other semi-enclosed environments.
Althardt said the Health Department was investigating how the pathogen might have been spread throughout the restaurant. Officials have also been talking to the restaurant’s management about its policies regarding employee hand-washing and making sure sick employees are excluded from working, he said.
“We will be monitoring this particular restaurant for the foreseeable future to make sure they follow our recommendations,” Althardt said.
Olive Garden is a unit of Darden Restaurants Inc.. The affected restaurant was closed on Friday, and Althardt said the Health Department had approved its reopening on Monday.
Olive Garden spokesman Steve Coe said the company was aiming to reopen the restaurant on Tuesday for dinner.
“We don’t know how the virus got into the restaurant, but we are taking the opportunity to reinforce with our management team and team members in the restaurant the rigorous standards that we have as it relates to especially handwashing,” Coe said.
News of the Olive Garden illnesses surfaced on Friday. It was the third U.S. restaurant chain this month to be linked to widespread customer illnesses.
Federal health officials declared that an outbreak of E.coli at Taco Bell restaurants in the U.S. Northeast was over last week. That outbreak sickened 71 people, and another E.coli outbreak at Taco John’s restaurants in Iowa and Minnesota sickened 54 customers.
The Olive Garden news helped send Darden shares down 2.2 percent on Friday, though the stock was up 0.4 percent at $40.60 on Monday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange.