Norovirus suspected at another Lakewood restaurant, health officials say

LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department is investigating a suspected norovirus outbreak at two Lakewood restaurants after 16 customers and four employees became sick.

They happened at California Tacos on Union Avenue Southwest and Tijuana Tacos on Bristol Avenue Southwest. The health department says they do not believe the two incidents are connected.

At Tijuana Tacos on Wednesday evening, Ken Karstens came hoping to pick up his order, “A couple of tacos and an enchilada to go.”

Instead, he was greeted with a sign at the door saying the restaurant is closed by the health department.

“Very surprised and a little upset. They seemed to be a very nice family operation. I never suspected that,” said Karstens.

Tijuana Tacos was shut down by the health department after five people and two employees got sick after eating at the establishment on Friday.

“Of course when there is a closure like this, we work with the food establishment to make sure they follow our cleaning and sanitizing procedures and make sure they get rid of all ready to eat food, like produce, cheese, bread, things that don’t require cooking before serving the customer,” said Steve Metcalf with the Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health.

Tijuana Tacos will undergo a rigorous sanitation process before inspectors check the restaurant again in the morning.

“We found it to be exceptionally good. It’s south of the border style, family owned. We’ve never had any repercussions medically from eating here. From a cleanliness standpoint they seemed fine,” said Karstens.

“I really love Mexican food, you just have to be really careful now,” said Nyteisha Yarborough who has eaten at Tijuana Tacos in the past.

A few miles away, California Tacos was shut down Tuesday, but after cleaning and sanitizing, reopened Wednesday afternoon after passing a health inspection. The health department says 11 people and two employees got sick at this restaurant between February 20th and 24th.

“The down and dirty truth about norovirus is that it is a fecal borne pathogen,” said Metcalf.

Norovirus is highly contagious and spreads from feces and vomit and contaminated people. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea often at the same time. The virus can survive on surfaces like countertops for weeks. Hand-washing, sanitizing with bleach and washing clothes in hot water is recommended if you’ve come into contact with the virus.

Customers say an outbreak like this breaks them very cautious about eating at the restaurants again.

“I think so. This can happen to anyone, but when you hear about it, it’s not an encouraging bit of information,” said Karstens.

If you ate at either restaurant and got sick, contact the Health Department at food@tpchd.org, report your illness online, or call (253) 798-4712.

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