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Outbreak News

Eateries address sanitation concerns

Health department, restaurants respond to reports of illness

By JUSTIN KROLL

The State News

Lansing — When it comes to the restaurant business, food safety is a top priority.

With recent health issues at Bravo Cucina Italiana, 2970 Towne Centre Blvd., and Carrabba's Italian Grill, 6540 W. Saginaw Hwy., the health department and local restaurants assure they take customer safety seriously.

Bravo closed for business Thursday night after more than 200 people contacted the Ingham County Health Department saying they had experienced flu-like symptoms after eating at the restaurant.

"We have closed our doors voluntarily," said Pamela Ritz, a spokeswoman for Bravo Development Inc. "We have brought in corporate to help with the situation and are taking a proactive stance to make sure whatever variable is causing this problem is eliminated."

Ritz also said the restaurant has been completely cooperative with the health department and has started taking steps to make sure they find the cause of the problem.

"We are taking a scientific approach to this situation," Ritz said. "We feel that if there are no customers in the store, this will eliminate one variable allowing us to tackle every other variable available to us."

Natasha Davidson, a risk communication specialist with the Ingham County Health Department, confirmed that the restaurant has been very cooperative with the department. Davidson also said that no cause has been found as to what had triggered these events and added that the investigation is still underway.

"Bravo has begun the three-step process that we recommended to them to make sure this problem is resolved," Davidson said.

The three steps recommended by the health department are additional training for things like sanitation and food safety, a complete disinfection of the store — cleaning everything from the light switches to the door knobs — and having an independent inspection of the restaurant, Davidson said.

Davidson and Ritz said that no timetable had been set for when the restaurant would be open again. Calls Sunday found Bravo was still closed.

Davidson said when there are no incidents occurring, one of the health department's biggest duties is observation.

"The health department makes two yearly inspections of each restaurant in Ingham County," Davidson said. "We go over and see what procedures and techniques each restaurant is taking when it comes to public health and sanitation, but first and foremost we are observing instead of instructing the restaurants."

In February, more than 400 people reported becoming ill after a Norovirus outbreak at Carrabba's.

Chris Simpson, a manager at BD's Mongolian Barbecue, 2080 W. Grand River Ave. in Okemos, said the restaurant has several points to consider before a customer ever sees their food.

"There are several types of checklists we have to make sure we do not run into any health issues," Simpson said. "We have daily maintenance checks and temperature checks. We make sure all employees wash their hands before dealing with food, and we have mandatory time limits for people who are cooking the food."

Simpson added that the restaurant never had any health incidents like the one at Bravo and that public safety was a high standard.

"The company wants to set its standards on health higher than that of the health department," Simpson said. "The company is always pushing for higher standards when it comes to health and safety."

Simpson said the health department come to call every six months to observe how food is handled. They also said employees who are sick are not allowed to work for various safety reasons.

"We tell them to call and tell us ahead of time if they are sick," Remmie said. "We don't want them in the building if they are sick at all."

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