State inspectors not clear about what sickened 176 at beer and oyster festival last year

Despite an extensive investigation, state health officials do not know the cause of an outbreak that sickened hundreds of people who attended a beer and oyster festival at Fager’s Island Restaurant in Ocean City last year.

About 600 people attended the event on Nov. 4, 2017, and 176 reported having diarrhea and vomiting after the event, according to a report released by the Maryland Health Department on Wednesday.

Most of the illnesses were likely caused by the norovirus, the report said. The illnesses likely came from consuming raw oysters, but investigators could not determine what contaminated them.

“The specific cause of the outbreak cannot be formally determined,” the report said.

Representatives from Fager’s could not be reached for comment.

The restaurant was also cited for not having available hand-washing stations for food-service workers during the event and sneeze guards. The restaurant also never submitted a proposal for outdoor cooking and serving to the Worcester County Health Department Office of Environmental Health and was not approved for any type of outdoor preparation and serving of food.

Three festival attendees told investigators they were ill with diarrhea or vomiting the week before the festival. It is possible the attendees were “potentially shedding virus,” the report said. One employee who shucked oysters might have been shedding virus before being symptomatic, the report said. Norovirus was spreading in Maryland at the time. Ten outbreaks were reported to the state from Oct. 22 to Nov. 25.

The investigators also could not pinpoint a contaminated oyster bed.

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