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State Report: Golden Corral Norovirus Outbreak Likely “Restaurant Associated”

Ian Delap, Townsquare Media

According to an official report released by the Wyoming Department of Health, a state epidemiologist says the cause of a Norovirus outbreak that sickened several hundred customers of Casper’s recently-opened Golden Corral restaurant late last year was likely “restaurant associated.”

The report was made available to K2 Radio on Wednesday.

The report says at least 305 customers became ill after eating at Golden Corral between Nov. 17 and Dec. 19 of 2012.

According to the report, though health officials were not able to pinpoint exactly how the virus was introduced into the restaurant itself, the Wyoming Department of Health did say employee and customer interactions with food and the presence of ill or previously ill employees in food-handling areas likely played key roles.

EXCLUSIVE: Read the Entire Wyoming Department of Health Report Here

The report also says investigators were able to identify several environmental health concerns at the restaurant through customer and employee interviews. Complaints included the reuse of dirty dishes in the buffet line, employees working while sick, employees not handling food with gloved hands, employees serving raw or undercooked food, and employees cross-contaminating between raw and undercooked foods.

Through the interview process, investigators also received several reports of customers vomiting in the restaurant’s main dining room and restrooms.

The report says, after the Casper-Natrona County Public Health Department fielded its first food borne illness report connected with the restaurant, no critical health violations were found during a health inspection at Golden Corral on Dec. 10 of last year.

The health department visited the restaurant again on Dec. 11 after receiving additional complaints of illness and a call from K2 Radio’s newsroom. The health department then found several health violations during an inspection on Dec. 12.

Restaurant management voluntarily closed the restaurant at around 1:00 p.m. on Dec. 13 for cleaning. Investigators urged restaurant management to sanitize “several areas of concern,” including the restrooms and the Chocolate Wonderfall area.

The Casper-Natrona County Health Department conducted a follow-up inspection on Dec. 31. According to the report, the restaurant had corrected all previous violations found on Dec. 13.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Norovirus is a contagious viral infection of the intestines. Symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, headaches, body aches, dehydration and diarrhea.

The CDC says Norovirus, which is a leading cause of food borne illness, leads to about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year.

RELATED: How to Protect Yourself Against Norovirus

In January, Casper-Natrona County Public Health Department director Robert Harrington said the health department spent at least $7,000 on the investigation.

Harrington says his department will not issue fines against Golden Corral unless criminal charges are filed.

The Denver-based franchisee of several Golden Corral restaurants in Colorado and Wyoming, Golden DBL Inc., opened its Casper restaurant between late October and November of 2012.

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