Subway: Serving Up Sickness?

What'll you have on your meatball sub—onions, tomatoes, maybe a little mustard? If you'd eaten at the Hartford City, Indiana, Subway location earlier this year, you might have gotten norovirus instead.

An unreported outbreak of the highly contagious virus in sandwich makers transmitted the illness to 72 unlucky sub lovers, according to a recent health department investigation.

Six Subway employees were ill with nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting—but continued to serve subs while sick, which is a violation of state law.

Norovirus is transmitted through fecally contaminated food or water, by person-to-person contact, and by way of air and contaminated surfaces. Of the 90 people who fell ill during that time period from norovirus, 72 reported eating at the Hardford City Subway. According to Food Safety News, stool samples from six employees tested positive for Norovirus.

Food Safety News reports that Blackford County Health Department learned of the sick employees, who continued to work while ill, back in February. But a recent article in the Muncie Star Press—which gained access to a copy of the Health Department's report—revealed the information to the public. According to the Star Press, the health report concluded: "Subway was a contributing factor to the spread of Norovirus in Blackford County."

An administrative code in Indiana has regulated food workers with diagnosed illnesses since 2000, requiring that any food employee diagnosed with salmonella, shiga toxin-producing E. coli, shigella, hepatitis A, or norovirus must be excluded from the food establishment, the Star Press reports.

Management learned about the illness through Facebook, but status updates and friend requests must have been too strong a temptation to ignore for the sake of public health: The manager never got around to reporting the illness to the health department.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that norovirus causes more than 20 million gastroenteritis cases every year.

What do you think about the way this outbreak was handled? Is management to blame, or are employees?

A sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, Megan likes writing about food almost as much as eating it. If you don't want to know what's in your fruit/milk/meat, don't invite her to lunch. @babybokchoy