Bali-Hai-Restaurant-San-DiegoBali Hai Restaurant (Likely Norovirus)

Dozens of people attending a banquet at Bali Hai Restaurant on Shelter Island in San Diego harbor last week were reportedly sickened, and health officials have been busy trying to figure out the source.

The event on July 29, sponsored by the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, drew 170 people, and 55 of them became ill. A few went to the hospital and paramedics reportedly took one there Saturday.

People who attended the banquet were being asked by officials with the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health to fill out a questionnaire about what they had eaten prior to becoming ill.

The restaurant serves Polynesian cuisine and is a popular wedding and banquet venue.

About 35 people were sickened after a wedding reception Friday night in Brewerton, NY, which is about 15 miles north of Syracuse. Nine of the 35 were reportedly taken via ambulance to local hospitals, but all have apparently been released.

As I said to San Diego media:

But food-safety attorney Bill Marler of Seattle said the tag violation could be a sign of a restaurant “cutting corners.”

“They’re called a critical violation for a reason,” Marler said as he prepared to leave Los Angeles for Minnesota. Such violations should have raised management concerns, he said.

Marler has been involved in food-poisoning cases since the 1993 Jack In The Box E. coli outbreak that killed four children and sickened more than 700 people eating undercooked hamburgers.

He said his firm also handled a 2003 case of E. coli bacteria at Pat & Oscar’s restaurants in San Diego County and a 2006 Shigella bacteria case at Filiberto’s in San Diego. His firm has won judgments or settlements totaling more than $600 million, he said.

Bali Hai has a legal problem if the norovirus is traced to an ill worker, Marler said. “Hopefully, they have insurance.”

Lawyer Marler said the Bali Hai outbreak might be considered medium-sized, since just in the past two months he’s seen a salmonella outbreak at a Boise, Idaho, delicatessen that sickened 300, a North Carolina BBQ incident that left 200 ill and a Kenosha, Wisconsin, outbreak that sickened 75.

“I sort of chuckled to myself,” Marler said. “I’m not sure the public is very sympathetic to journalists getting sick.”

Arrowhead-Lodge-banquet-roomArrowhead Lodge at Oneida Shores Park

The reception was being held at Arrowhead Lodge at Oneida Shores Park, where people can rent the facility from Onondaga County and arrange to bring in their own food.

Ann Rooney, Onondaga County deputy county executive, told a Syracuse news outlet that county and state health department officials were investigating the situation and that it had not yet been confirmed whether food was the source of the problem.

Rooney said that ambulances had taken nine people to emergency rooms at Crouse, St. Joseph’s and Upstate University hospitals and at Cortland Regional Medical Center. Two people were kept overnight, and everyone has now been treated and released, she added.

According to one hospital spokesman, the symptoms included diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and cramping.

County health department staff had interviewed 70 of 100 people who attended the event by Saturday afternoon, and half of them reported getting sick at the reception or afterwards, Rooney noted. She would not identify the food vendor at the wedding reception because the cause was still unknown.