Unlucky meal sickens diners

County health officials say at least 18 people reported being sick after eating at a Conover seafood restaurant late last week.

Citizens reported experiencing nausea, diarrhea and vomiting after eating at the Harbor Inn Seafood restaurant on Fairgrove Church Road.

"They reported that they ate there around Friday the 13th," said Kelly Isenhour, Catawba County Public Health's (CCPH) assistant health director. "Their illnesses seem to come on fairly quickly and intensely, and their symptoms seem to revolve around that day."

The O-N-E contacted Harbor Inn. Management did not return a call in time for this story.

Isenhour said CCPH's environmental health branch has not identified a specific food the people ate, and health officials have not linked the illnesses with a particular virus.

"At this point in time, we've not done any diagnoses on that, but we will continue to monitor if we get additional reports," she said. "We do consult with the state when we have anything like this. At this point, we have not been advised to do any diagnosis for gathering stool samples to help us clarify if a certain virus or bacteria is involved."

CCPH did not report additional recent incidents involving illnesses and Harbor Inn. Isenhour said people who reported illnesses said they knew of other people who were sick after eating at the restaurant on and around Jan. 13.

Environmental health officials have visited Harbor Inn several times in the last week to work with management to ensure safe food-handling practices.

"They've checked temperatures and made sure sanitizers are being used to kill viruses," Isenhour said. "They've suggested being more stringent about food-handling processes and cleaning. (Restaurant managers) have been cooperative and open to suggestions."

Clean record
Harbor Inn Seafood received high sanitation grades in recent inspections by the Catawba County Public Health's environmental health division. The most recent inspection, on Dec. 29, 2011, yielded a 99.5 score.