CASPER, Wyo. — More than 50 reports of foodborne illness have been made to the Natrona County Health Department this week, said Bob Harrington, department director.
Evidence points to the Golden Corral restaurant in east Casper as the source of the outbreak, he said.
Harrington and other department officials conducted an on-site inspection at the restaurant Wednesday. There were sanitation inspections and interviews with employees and management. The Denver-based owner of the restaurant was on location throughout the day working with Health Department officials.
“We are doubling down on all of our safety and sanitary procedures that are normally done,” said David Giesen, president of franchisee Golden DBL Inc. of Denver.
Giesen said he had been cooperating with the Health Department’s investigation.
“Food safety is our highest priority,” he said.
Harrington and Giesen said the cause of the outbreak cannot definitively be connected to the restaurant. It could be a normal virus affecting the community at large, Giesen said.
The department is interviewing people and collecting specimens in its investigation and should have the results in a week, Harrington said.
“We're pretty close to calling it a virus,” Harrington said. “If it’s what we think it is, it’s norovirus.”
Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne disease outbreaks worldwide, according to the National Institutes of Health. The common effects are flu-like symptoms.
Reports of vomiting and diarrhea have been widespread in Casper, and linking the people, time frame and exposure is what takes a while, Harrington said.
Brain Beall and his family went to the restaurant on Saturday night.
“Early Sunday morning and in the afternoon my entire family was sick,” he said.
They had norovirus symptoms, he said.
When Beall went to pick up a plate at the buffet line, he noticed the bottom was dirty. He picked up more than 25 plates — all were dirty with the remains of food, he said. He spoke to an employee.
“He told me the dishwasher was broken,” Beall said.
Beall lives in Douglas and said the Casper food poisoning outbreak is the talk of the town. He was in a local grocery store Wednesday morning and spoke with four other people who went to Golden Corral over the weekend and became ill.
Even after they saw the unsanitary conditions, Beall said he and his family still ate at the restaurant.
“I am kicking myself in the butt for that. I should have walked away,” he said.
Andrea Whisler and her fiance, Chad Rosty, ate at the Golden Coral on Nov. 17. They both went to the hospital that night and missed the next week of work. Their doctor confirmed their sickness came from a foodborne illness.
Whisler has gastro paresis, a condition that affects her digestive system.
“Right now my entire system is halted,” she said. “I am still paying for what happened in November.”
Whisler said she and her attorney are working with Golden Corral’s insurance company to pay her medical bills.
The restaurant is still operating and had a full crowd for dinner on Wednesday.