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Allegedly, bad food has led to this bad press

Journalists' banquet at Bali Hai results in norovirus outbreak

Norovirus confirmed, contaminated ice suspected
Norovirus confirmed, contaminated ice suspected

About 60 of the 150 people who attended a July 29 San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists banquet at the Bali Hai ended up sick with norovirus.

Now, the organization is ending its tradition of holding its annual awards celebration at the Shelter Island restaurant due to the owners’ lack of response to the group's request for an apology and refund.

"We are extremely disappointed by its lack of responsiveness and floored, frankly, that no one from the Bali Hai ever apologized to us for this foodborne illness," chapter president Matt Hall said in a post on the group's website. "We will choose a new venue for next year's banquet."

Larry Baumann, co-owner of the restaurant, said the incident was upsetting for his operation as well.

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"We feel terrible that people got sick," he said. "It's been very difficult and the entire staff feels terrible about that."

Norovirus is an easily transmitted illness that leaves its host with nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, fever, and other viral symptoms. Hall said that people missed work and other plans because of the illness; three people allegedly turned up at hospitals and one stayed for a few days.

The San Diego County Health Department eventually labeled it a "food-borne illness" and identified ice as the probable carrier, though they weren't able to make a conclusive determination. Everyone recovered, Hall said.

Baumann said it is important to note that it was norovirus and not food poisoning that resulted in the illnesses.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there, people saying it was food poisoning when it was not," he said. "Norovirus is incredibly contagious — you can get it from shaking hands or touching a doorknob."

While county health officials say it was probably the ice, Baumann said he doesn't believe it. 

"We served 3000 people here in a few days — if it was the ice, the outbreak would have been much worse."

The worst part, he said, is that once lawyers and insurance companies got involved, he was instructed to say little or nothing to anyone.

"You look like a jerk when you can't say anything because of what your people are telling you to do," he said. "Of course we feel terrible about this. But it was not food-borne illness."

Hall disagrees and points to the language in the county report.

"We're journalists and we're not going on assumptions," he said. "We're very careful about that. It's in the county report that this was food-borne. The documents speak for themselves.” The document, meanwhile, does specify "ice" as the suspected culprit.

Hall said he asked Bauman for a full refund of the approximately $7200 the group paid for the event in a letter "while emphasizing that the refund would not satisfy an individual’s claim against the venue."

The group's board thought preliminarily about putting the refunded money into its scholarship fund "so that something good could come out of this." 

Hall said he didn't hear back from Baumann. Instead, he got a voice message from an employee of Liberty Mutual Insurance, the resort's carrier. He returned the call and hasn't heard back for weeks, he said.

For Hall, who was one of the people afflicted, becoming sick after the event wasn't the only uncomfortable part.

"It was weird to be on the other side of the story," he said. 

The group has been holding the event at the Bali Hai for nine or ten years, Baumann said. "They are a nice group and they enjoy themselves," he said. "Their decision is understandable and we wish them well."

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Norovirus confirmed, contaminated ice suspected
Norovirus confirmed, contaminated ice suspected

About 60 of the 150 people who attended a July 29 San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists banquet at the Bali Hai ended up sick with norovirus.

Now, the organization is ending its tradition of holding its annual awards celebration at the Shelter Island restaurant due to the owners’ lack of response to the group's request for an apology and refund.

"We are extremely disappointed by its lack of responsiveness and floored, frankly, that no one from the Bali Hai ever apologized to us for this foodborne illness," chapter president Matt Hall said in a post on the group's website. "We will choose a new venue for next year's banquet."

Larry Baumann, co-owner of the restaurant, said the incident was upsetting for his operation as well.

Sponsored
Sponsored

"We feel terrible that people got sick," he said. "It's been very difficult and the entire staff feels terrible about that."

Norovirus is an easily transmitted illness that leaves its host with nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, fever, and other viral symptoms. Hall said that people missed work and other plans because of the illness; three people allegedly turned up at hospitals and one stayed for a few days.

The San Diego County Health Department eventually labeled it a "food-borne illness" and identified ice as the probable carrier, though they weren't able to make a conclusive determination. Everyone recovered, Hall said.

Baumann said it is important to note that it was norovirus and not food poisoning that resulted in the illnesses.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there, people saying it was food poisoning when it was not," he said. "Norovirus is incredibly contagious — you can get it from shaking hands or touching a doorknob."

While county health officials say it was probably the ice, Baumann said he doesn't believe it. 

"We served 3000 people here in a few days — if it was the ice, the outbreak would have been much worse."

The worst part, he said, is that once lawyers and insurance companies got involved, he was instructed to say little or nothing to anyone.

"You look like a jerk when you can't say anything because of what your people are telling you to do," he said. "Of course we feel terrible about this. But it was not food-borne illness."

Hall disagrees and points to the language in the county report.

"We're journalists and we're not going on assumptions," he said. "We're very careful about that. It's in the county report that this was food-borne. The documents speak for themselves.” The document, meanwhile, does specify "ice" as the suspected culprit.

Hall said he asked Bauman for a full refund of the approximately $7200 the group paid for the event in a letter "while emphasizing that the refund would not satisfy an individual’s claim against the venue."

The group's board thought preliminarily about putting the refunded money into its scholarship fund "so that something good could come out of this." 

Hall said he didn't hear back from Baumann. Instead, he got a voice message from an employee of Liberty Mutual Insurance, the resort's carrier. He returned the call and hasn't heard back for weeks, he said.

For Hall, who was one of the people afflicted, becoming sick after the event wasn't the only uncomfortable part.

"It was weird to be on the other side of the story," he said. 

The group has been holding the event at the Bali Hai for nine or ten years, Baumann said. "They are a nice group and they enjoy themselves," he said. "Their decision is understandable and we wish them well."

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