Study: Salad source of illnesses

Tossed salad was the source of a virus outbreak in January that sickened diners of a Conover seafood restaurant, according to a state health investigation.

Catawba County Public Health (CCPH) received at least 166 reports of illnesses from diners who ate at Harbor Inn Seafood between Jan. 13-29.

State health officials previously identified the illness as norovirus and now say it stemmed from the restaurant’s tossed salad.

A N.C. Division of Public Health (NCDPH) norovirus investigation found that individuals who became ill after eating at Harbor Inn in January were 27 times more likely to have eaten tossed salad than those who did not become ill.

“Our reports do point to the salad as the vehicle,” said Kelly Schermerhorn, public information officer for CCPH.

The state’s “case-control study” used a total of 110 citizens who ate at Harbor Inn between Jan. 13-22.

The study compared 55 individuals who reported being sick to 55 individuals who did not get sick.

State and county health officials completed phone interviews using a survey that asked patrons a comprehensive series of questions about menu items and activities associated with eating at Harbor Inn, according to CCPH information.

The majority of norovirus reports were from people who ate the weekend of Jan. 13.

There have been no recent reports of illness associated with Harbor Inn, CCPH officials said.
Many Harbor Inn patrons pointed to the salad as the cause of the illnesses, even before the study results were finalized.

Addison Fox, of Hickory, told The O-N-E in late January that the salad was at the root of the problem. 
Fox said he ate at Harbor Inn on Jan. 13 with his father and brother. His brother did not have a salad and did not get sick. He and his father ate salads and became ill that night.

"I've been sick before, but that was one of the worst experiences I've ever had," Fox told The O-N-E. "I was sound asleep, woke up and was going to be sick. Convulsing would be a better word. Six, seven or eight hours later, I felt like my body had been through the ringer."

Public Health has worked closely with Harbor Inn and other restaurants to recommend healthier practices and information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

NCDPH will release an official report about the norovirus outbreak within the next 30 days.

It will be available at

Schermerhorn said the complete report will include more detailed information, such as some of the questions diners were asked and statistics that led researchers to the cause of the virus.

Norovirus unassociated with Harbor Inn continues to be a problem for some residents in the area and across the state.

Health officials advise citizens to wash their hands thoroughly and stay home when needed to prevent the spread of disease.

“This study helped us not only learn more about communicable disease at the local level, but also contributed to the state’s overall understanding of the spread and prevention of illness,” said Doug Urland, CCPH health director. “Because illness is common this time of year, we continue to encourage everyone to wash their hands frequently with soap and water and to stay home when sick.”