File Photo – D.C. Cobb’s in McHenry | Photo: Google Street View

Health officials say norovirus was identified as the illness that led to an outbreak at D.C. Cobb’s in McHenry which left over 160 customers sick after eating at the restaurant.

The McHenry County Department of Health (MCDH) reported on September 13 that they were investigating an outbreak of a gastrointestinal illness linked to D.C. Cobb’s, located at 1204 North Green Street in McHenry.

The health department identified an outbreak at the business after receiving complaints initially from 13 people who became ill after eating at the establishment.

Those who ate at the establishment in late August and early September were asked to complete a survey to assist MCDH in their investigation.

The health department announced Friday that they had completed their investigation into the outbreak.

“Foodborne illness investigations are a top priority to protect the public’s health. The MCDH investigation team appreciates the cooperation from the public to bring this complex investigation to a close,” said Susan Karras, MCDH’s Director of Public Health Nursing.

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“The final report demonstrates the dedication and high level of work the MCDH team does every day to protect the public’s health in McHenry County,” Karras said.

A spokesperson for the department said that 168 patrons and five staff members were identified as becoming sick from the outbreak.

Norovirus was identified as the pathogen involved but the investigation could not determine exactly how it was introduced into the restaurant, the spokesperson said.

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that spreads quickly from person to person or through contaminated items and it cannot be treated with antibiotics, health officials said.

The health department conducted inspections and provided corrective action to the restaurant.

“The management of D.C. Cobb’s fully cooperated with the illness investigation team and continues to work with Division of Environmental Health staff to implement additional strategies to prevent future public health concerns,” said Patti Nomm, MCDH’s Director of Environmental Health.

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According to the final report, inspectors noted over 30 health and safety problems at D.C. Cobb’s during their inspections.

An employee preparing food was seen chewing gum and an employee who was wearing gloves and preparing food had wiped their gloves with a soiled rag and then handled clean dishes.

The report said food preparations were not always conducted in approved areas. “Failure to conduct food preparations in approved areas, supplied with hand sinks. Observed a branding iron in the basement break area. Hamburger buns were branded with the “DC” logo in this area.”

There were no disposable paper towels at the dish area kitchen handwashing sinks, the report said, adding that an employee was spotted using a soiled rag to dry their hands in the area.

The report listed numerous other examples of incorrect food handling and issues, including ill employees returning to work within 24 hours of a gastrointestinal illness.