According to an official report released by the Wyoming Department of Health, a state epidemiologist says the cause of a Norovirus outbreak that sickened several hundred customers of Casper’s recently-opened Golden Corral restaurant late last year was likely “restaurant associated.”

The report was made available to K2 Radio on Wednesday.

The report says at least 305 Golden Corral customers became ill after eating at the restaurant between Nov. 17 and Dec. 19 of 2012.

Though health officials were not able to pinpoint how exactly the virus was introduced into the restaurant itself, according to the report, the Wyoming Department of Health did say employee and customer interactions with food and the presence of ill or previously ill employees in food-handling areas possibly played key roles.

According to the report, investigators were able to identify several environmental health concerns at the restaurant through customer and employee interviews. Complaints included the reuse of unwashed dishes in the buffet line, employees working while sick, employees not handling food with gloved hands, employees serving raw or undercooked food, and employees cross-contaminating between raw and uncooked foods.

Through the interview process, investigators also received several reports of customers vomiting in the restaurant’s main dining room and restrooms.

The report says no critical violations were found during a health inspection at Golden Corral on Dec. 10 of last year. The inspection was triggered after the Casper-Natrona County Public Health Department fielded its first food borne illness report connected with the restaurant.

The health department visited the restaurant again on Dec. 11 after fielding several additional food borne illness reports and a call from K2 Radio’s newsroom. The health department then found several health violations during an inspection on Dec. 12.

Restaurant management voluntarily closed the restaurant at around 1:00 p.m. on Dec. 13 for cleaning. Investigators urged restaurant management to sanitize “several areas of concern,” including the restrooms and the "chocolate wonderfall" area.

The Casper-Natrona County Public Health Department conducted a follow-up inspection on Dec. 31. According to the report, the restaurant had corrected all previous violations found on Dec. 13.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Norovirus is a contagious viral infection of the intestines. Symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, headaches, body aches, dehydration and diarrhea.

The CDC says Norovirus, which is a leading cause of food borne illness, leads to about 70,000 hospitalizations and 800 deaths each year.

In January, Casper-Natrona County Public Health Department director Robert Harrington said his agency had, at that point, spent at least $7,000 on the Golden Corral investigation. Harrington said the health department will not issue fines against Golden Corral unless criminal charges are filed.

Golden DBL Inc., the Denver-based franchisee of several Golden Corral locations in Colorado and Wyoming, opened its Casper restaurant between late October and November of 2012.

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