OGDEN — An Ogden restaurant that came under scrutiny for possible food poisoning has received a clean bill of health from the Weber-Morgan Health Department, the owner said Thursday.
Blake Hawkins, who owns Hug-Hes Cafe, 4387 Harrison Blvd., said tests showed 20 people who reported becoming ill last month after eating food from his restaurant were infected by a norovirus, a common virus easily transmitted from person to person.
“They did find the norovirus, but they didn’t find any problems with our food,” Hawkins said of the health department.
“They took samples and had those tested, and when the (first newspaper) article originally came out, the spin was more like a food-poisoning kind of thing,” which turned out not to be the case, he said.
Nobody knows where the virus originated, Hawkins said.
“It could have been an employee, it could have been a customer. This is a virus that is fairly common. My understanding is, it shows up in seasonal changes, and the symptoms are just like food poisoning or the 24-hour flu,” he said.
“There is no vaccine to take to prevent it. It just runs its course in 24 to 36 hours.”
Some of his employees came down with the same virus several days after those who ate the restaurant food. He said no one knows if the employees caught it from the same source as the customers.
He said health inspectors tested his food and kitchen and found nothing wrong.
However, Gary House, director of Weber-Morgan Health Department, said his department’s findings aren’t as cut and dried as Hawkins would like.
Department investigators found no problems with Hug-Hes’ food or its preparation procedures, he said, adding that the restaurant is clean and safe.
However, House said only two of the 20 people who said they got sick took their problem to a doctor or hospital. They did test positive for the norovirus, not food poisoning.
House said there’s no way to know what made the untested people sick.
All 20 were part of a group who ate take-out pasta, sandwiches and cookies from Hug-Hes.
House said the Hug-Hes situation is like most reports of illness from a restaurant.
“We get dozens of food complaints every month. People call saying, ‘I ate at so-and-so restaurant and got sick,’ and we take those seriously and investigate every one of them.”
But what usually happens is, people eat on Monday, get sick on Wednesday or Thursday and don’t report it until Friday, if then. Any food from that first day is gone by then.
Most people complain but don’t get tested.
“The most serious ones end up being hospitalized, but for the most part, these investigations we do are challenging, because they are after the fact,” House said.
That’s the situation with Hug-Hes. Inspectors did check the restaurant’s food, but it was food prepared several days after the people got sick. Most of those who got sick were not tested.
“The downside is, if the word gets out and someone reports that they ate at restaurant X, then that restaurant is going to suffer the consequences of word getting out,” House said.
The problem at Hug-Hes was reported Oct. 2 in the Standard-Examiner.
That day “was probably one of the worst days of my life, to be honest with you,” Hawkins said Thursday.
He said the reports hurt his 24-year-old business, so he contacted the Standard-Examiner after getting test results from the health department.
“It’s a situation that has been really frustrating this last month, and I just wanted you folks to know what is going on a little bit, an update,” Hawkins said.
“There has been some significant information since the article was run.”