Fat Duck Sickness Complaints Jump to 400 From 40 in Food Scare

Fat Duck Sickness Complaints Jump to 400 From 40 in Food Scare
2009-03-06 00:00:01.7 GMT

By Richard Vines

March 6 (Bloomberg) — The number of people who have reported falling sick after eating at the Fat Duck has risen to 400 from 40 last week, when Chef Heston Blumenthal said he was temporarily closing his restaurant because of the health scare.

The Health Protection Agency and officials from the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead are investigating the complaints about the experimental eatery, west of London, which
is famed for dishes such as snail porridge and bacon-and-egg ice cream.

“This is a very complex outbreak,” Dr. Graham Bickler, the agency’s regional director, said yesterday in a press statement. “We are working closely with the restaurant and
with colleagues in the Royal Borough’s Environmental Health team to explain what happened and to ensure that the risks of it happening again are reduced as much as possible.”

The Fat Duck, which has three Michelin stars, was named the world’s best restaurant in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards in 2005 and has been in the top two for the past five years. El Bulli, north of Barcelona, currently holds first place.

Blumenthal announced the shutdown on Feb. 27 after diners had called over a three-week period to report they had become ill. He said the next day he hoped to reopen this week and said tests hadn’t revealed any evidence of food poisoning. At the time, he put the cost of a one-week shutdown at 100,000 pounds ($141,000) and said he didn’t know if his insurance would cover it.

Food Tests

Health officials have conducted tests on foodstuffs from the Fat Duck and taken samples from diners and from staff members, looking for signs of contamination by germs — either bacterial or viral — which might have occurred at any time from being supplied to the restaurant to being served, the agency said.

“We’re saying 400 possible cases, not that 400 people have fallen sick,” Teresa Cash, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in a telephone interview last night. “When people hear something like this has happened, they may call and report something.” The complaints relate to meals since late January.

Blumenthal’s spokeswoman, Monica Brown, said the chef had no further comment while the investigation was continuing.

The restaurant has examined records of which waiters served which customers, which dishes the diners ordered and where they sat without finding any correlation, Blumenthal said in a telephone interview on Feb. 28. The Fat Duck has used an independent company, Food Alert, for four years to monitor hygiene and it is involved in investigating the complaints, he said.

The restaurant normally serves more than 80 people a day, and each spends on average about 220 pounds, Blumenthal said. The tasting menu costs 130 pounds for about a dozen courses such as the Sound of the Sea, where diners don earphones and listen to lapping waves while consuming seafood washed up on what looks like a beach. The sand is a mix of tapioca and Japanese breadcrumbs.

Matching wines for the menu cost 90 pounds or 165 pounds.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

For Related News and Information:
Top arts and lifestyle stories, MUSE <GO>.
London dining reviews, TNI LONDON RES <GO>.
More reviews by Richard Vines, NI VINES <GO>.

Editors: Mark Beech, Robin Schatz.

To contact the writer on the story:
Richard Vines in London at +44-20-7330-7866 or rvines@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Mark Beech at +44-20-7330-7593 or mbeech@bloomberg.net

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