Rhode Island residents can once again eat at local restaurant Wright’s Farm. The establishment recently reopened after a temporary closure to conduct extensive cleaning after the Rhode Island Department of Health linked the establishment to an outbreak of norovirus that sickened at least 30.
The business, which has been owned and operated by owner Frank Galleshaw for 44 years, serves more than 500,000 customers annually. The Burrillville, Rhode Island restaurant voluntarily closed its doors “out of an abundance of caution” to “continue a thorough, ongoing sanitation and cleaning process,” Galleshaw said in a prepared statement.
Restaurant Dining Gone Wrong
According to interviews, diners did not notice anything out of the ordinary with their food during the dining experience.
Denise Senosk, a resident of Brookfield, Massachussetts, ate the chicken dinner along with 12 other family members that weekend. “None complained about anything that night,” Senosk said. The meal, which consisted of chicken, salad, rolls and pasta, “was good, it was hot, and it came out quick.”
By Monday, things had changed: Senosk’s son John was “violently throwing up and shaking and had diarrhea.” She was worried because he “never gets sick and couldn’t catch his breath.” When John balked at the idea of a trip to the emergency room, she agreed to wait and see if the situation resolved without seeking medical help.
As mother and son rode out his illness, Senosk began to get calls from others who had been in attendance for the Wright’s Farm meal. “I was thinking food poisoning,” she said, “and then [John’s] girlfriend called and said she was sick, then my brother-in-law called and said he was sick, then my sister.”
When a friend suggested that Wright’s likely caused the illnesses, Senosk’s initial reaction was “No, jeez we’ve been eating there for so long and never had a problem.”
Investigation of Wright’s Norovirus Outbreak
Officials from the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDH) began investigating Wright’s Farm after receiving reports that a large number of restaurant patrons fell ill after eating there on a Sunday. “Every indication is that it’s norovirus,” said Joseph Wendelken, spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Health. “While this is an unpleasant situation, it’s not an enormous health threat.”
Wendelken indicated that the department had a specific plan of attack. The first step RIDH investigators took was to “look at the food preparation practices and interview staff there.” In addition to conducting interviews of the restaurant’s employees, the department would “also talk to the people who are sick”.
Senosk saw a little boy vomit not far from where her group of 13 sat that evening. Enough people noticed the event that patrons informed Galleshaw. The owner said in his statement that “a sick child became physically ill in the restaurant. Customers in the child’s immediate are have come forward to report similar symptoms.”
RIDH ultimately concluded that the source of the outbreak was not the restaurant’s food, but the sick child that became ill in the public area of the restaurant.
Aftermath of an Outbreak
Galleshaw said that the restaurant cleaned and sanitized every inch of the building, and even double-washed all utensils and dishes. He went on to recite a laundry list of actions the restaurant took: “steam cleaned our carpets, rugs, cleaned our kitchen. Cleaned all of the tables, chairs, sanitized everything, sanitized our walls, windows, pictures. Then we ran our plates, silverware, salt pepper shakers, we emptied those out, and ran everything through our dishwasher two times just to make sure that this place was ready to open up and everything was clean and sanitized.
Despite her family’s single negative experience, Senosk said she she would return to the restaurant. “We’ve been there several times because it’s a big place,” she said, “and we have 26 people in our family and go there for family celebrations. I would go back. I would like to think that everyone would be willing to go back.”
“We’re just really looking forward to our customers coming back. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about us opening. It’s been a really nice experience for us, it’s been very heartwarming for the people calling us, telling us they realize this was not our fault, Wright’s Farm had nothing to do with it,” said the owner.
Galleshaw continued, saying “there’s nothing we take more seriously than the health and well being of our loyal guests.”
Norovirus: Facts and Symptoms
Norovirus causes inflammation of the stomach, the intestines or both. Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. People with norovirus also experience fever, headache and body aches, though with less frequency than gastrointestinal symptoms.
The virus is highly contagious and easily spread, which accounts for frequent outbreaks of the illness in enclosed environments such as cruise ships and prisons.