MANCHESTER — Two of the Puritan Backroom workers who fell sick from the norovirus outbreak in late November were servers who had close contact with the guests, a co-owner of the restaurant said Thursday.
Eric Zink said none of his kitchen workers came down with the virus, and “it probably wasn’t the food” that sickened 18 people and factored in one person’s death.
Zink spoke to a reporter two days after state officials announced that norovirus was a contributing cause in the death of a Hillsborough County adult who attended an event at the Backroom’s banquet center on Nov. 24.
In his comments, Zink raised the possibility that the norovirus came from outside and was only transmitted during the event of 46 guests.
State and local officials have avoided blaming it on the Manchester restaurant, which is co-owned by first-term Congressman Chris Pappas.
Local health officials said they found nothing during a Nov. 27 inspection to make them think any risk still existed.
“The investigation (into the outbreak) is complete. We will issue a report with our findings and will provide it when it becomes available,” said Kathy Remillard, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Remillard said the state could not provide other information about the person’s death, such as all the causes listed on the death certificate. She described that as “private and protected health information” covered by state and federal privacy laws.
Zink, however, said it’s important to know all the factors in the person’s death.
“I’d be interested in hearing that,” he said.
Norovirus is a highly contagious sickness that causes diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. The disease is spread through direct contact with an infected person, from eating or drinking contaminated food or water or touching contaminated surfaces and then putting unwashed hands in the mouth.
No specific treatment exists for norovirus. While most people who contract the virus improve within a few days, several hundred die each year from it.
Health officials said no Puritan Backroom workers were sick on the day of the event at the banquet hall.
Zink said two of the banquet hall servers who worked the event eventually came down with norovirus symptoms. He said they had close contact with the quests. They also would have cleaned up their plates and the buffet after the event ended.
They did not spoon out food during the event; that was left up to the guests. The two servers who got sick did not eat any of the food, he said.
He said it’s significant that no food preparation workers were sick.
All those facts caused him to conclude the norovirus probably did not come from the food.
“I think ultimately, more than anything, it gives us confidence we’re employing very strict food safety standards in the kitchen,” Zink said.
The announcement on Tuesday relied on a final report completed the same day by the office of the Chief Medical Examiner.