Wedding venue to close after link to third gastro outbreak

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A wedding venue linked to a gastro outbreak that sickened more than 140 people at two separate events will temporarily close its doors after guests of a third gathering reported becoming ill.

The Park restaurant will not operate for the next two weeks as it investigates the source of the latest outbreak, linked to an event held at the Albert Park venue this past weekend.

The Park restaurant will not operate for the next two weeks.Credit: Simon Schluter

The Park had been permitted to continue operating despite more than 70 people falling ill after attending a medical conference dinner at the restaurant on September 13 and a wedding at the venue on September 16.

The Victorian health department has said that the most likely cause of the earlier illnesses was norovirus, a common and highly contagious form of gastro.

When asked on Friday about procedure for allowing the venue to remain open after the earlier cases, a spokesperson for the health department said The Park had undertaken cleaning in accordance with its guidelines for the investigation of gastroenteritis and to the satisfaction of the City of Port Phillip.

The Park venue manager Bahaa Harb said on Tuesday that the decision this week to close had been voluntary and was not at the request of the health department.

A third event has been linked to a gastro outbreak at The Park.

“We had taken all precautionary health and safety measures ahead of recent events, however, as there have been reported illnesses from an event on the weekend, we have decided to temporarily stop operating functions for the next two weeks until we have further information,” Harb said.

“It is possible that these outbreaks are not linked, but we have decided to close out of an abundance of caution until we have further information.

“It is not a decision we have taken lightly and we have found alternate locations for all parties impacted by our temporary closure.”

It is not known how many people reported sick after attending the weekend event.

The health department was first notified that people who attended the Australia and New Zealand Burns Association (ANZBA) conference dinner were ill on September 15, two days after the event.

A health department spokesperson said investigators believed the outbreak may have been linked to a nearby hotel, where conference guests had been staying.

Port Phillip Council health officers had visited The Park for a routine food safety inspection that day – September 15.

“At the time of inspection, our council was unaware of the gastroenteritis outbreak associated with a dinner held at The Park on Wednesday 13 September,” Port Phillip Council Acting Mayor Andrew Bond said.

Harb said the venue had been contacted on September 15 by organisers of the medical dinner and advised that two people had fallen ill 48 hours after the event.

The Park operators would not say whether they were aware of the reported illnesses when health officers had visited the venue that day.

Harb said the medical conference organisers told The Park operators that the guests had spent the day at a medical conference at the hotel “and indicated that the cause of the illness was being investigated” there.

“That 48 hours had passed between the event and the onset of symptoms, indicated that the cause was not food poisoning from the event at The Park,” he said.

Harb said The Park had been cleaned “per standard operating procedures” after the medical dinner and there was “no indication of a broader issue”.

“On Friday 15th September, we received a health and safety inspection from the council which found no issues with our food health and safety.”

Harb said the venue was not made aware of additional cases linked to the dinner until after the wedding on September 16.

Bond said council health officers were made aware of the outbreak linked to the venue after the wedding on September 18 and “immediately attended the venue to provide support for the Victorian Department of Health investigation through measures including completing inspections and reviewing the food production processes and supervising the cleaning”.

“At this time, our council and the department were not aware of a link between the ANZBA conference and The Park,” Bond said.

The health department did not respond to questions from The Age regarding the outbreak on Tuesday.

Harb said The Park had taken all precautionary health and safety measures ahead of the weekend’s event.

“The health and wellbeing of our guests is our highest priority,” Harb said.

The Health Department-lead investigation that is being conducted with the City of Port Philip council and The Park is ongoing.

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