Sick Harbor Inn patrons now number 40

Johnny Hicks experienced a rough night Jan. 14.

Starting about 11:30 p.m., he became weak and sick on his stomach.

Hicks had eaten at the Harbor Inn seafood restaurant in Conover that day.

"We were in a party of six," his wife Jan said Tuesday. "I was the only one who didn't eat salad. So it was either the salad or the salad dressing."

About 40 people have officially reported becoming sick after eating at Harbor Inn in the days around Jan. 13, said Amy McCauley, outreach manager for Catawba County Public Health (CCPH).

The O-N-E was first to report the illnesses Saturday. At that time, 18 citizens had reported symptoms including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

"We're still completing an investigation and consulting with the state's Division of Public Health," McCauley said. "They recommended Friday afternoon that we collect stool samples to see what might have caused this and been a factor."

CCPH has not yet determined what caused the illnesses, McCauley said, adding the organization expects stool sample results about a week after they are submitted to the state. CCPH had not received any samples from citizens as of Tuesday afternoon.

"(Samples will) help determine bacteria, viruses and what could be a potential source," McCauley said. "A lot of things can cause those symptoms. This will help narrow down the possibilities if something is present in a sample."

The O-N-E has received reports from citizens who said they believe oysters or salad caused the illnesses.

The health department found no problems with Harbor Inn's oysters or salad, said George Ziogas, who owns the restaurant.

"The health department came in and they did not find anything wrong in the kitchen," Ziogas said. "The health department could not pinpoint exactly what the problem was."

McCauley said the health department conducted training with the Harbor Inn staff Tuesday to provide education about safe food-handling practices, hand-washing procedures and proper sanitation.

"We've had high (sanitation) scores for the last 20 years," Ziogas said. "We've been here for 23 years. We're going to continue to do business here for many more years."

Johnny Hicks said he's glad his illness is over. Will he and his wife eat at Harbor Inn again?

"I'd have to think about that a long time," Jan said. "I've never had a problem with their fish. Their fish are excellent. Definitely no salad."