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Health officials: More than 200 report illness after eating at 2 El Toro Restaurants

The El Toro Restaurant in University Place was closed Wednesday after a suspected norovirus outbreak. (Photo: KOMO News)

TACOMA, Wash. -- The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department said it is investigating a possible norovirus outbreak at a second El Toro restaurant.

Now more than 200 people have reported getting sick after eating at one of the two restaurants.

On Wednesday, the Health Department closed the University Place restaurant at 3820 Bridgeport Way W. It will be closed for at least 24 hours or until it is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.


That comes after the Health Department closed the El Toro Restaurant, 5716 N. 26th St. in Tacoma. Health officials say there may be 232 norovirus cases tied to that Tacoma restaurant.

More reports of illness are coming in, the Health Department said. " Food program staff learned of the additional cases when they interviewed 41 customers who reported getting sick at the restaurant between Dec. 31 and Jan. 8," the Health Department said.

The Tacoma restaurant was allowed to reopen Tuesday.

"They're cooperative. They're concerned of course," said Christina Sherman of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

The Health Department said it got two reports on Jan. 8 from customers who said they got sick after eating at the University Place restaurant on Jan. 6. Four people got ill,

"It is in the community, It's out there. This is a common time for norovirus," said Sherman.

They experienced vomiting and diarrhea 24-36 hours after eating, and those symptoms lasted one to two days, the Health Department said,

" We suspect norovirus to be the pathogen based on the symptoms," the Health Department said,.

At this point, it's unclear if the investigations at both restaurants are connected. Health officials learned of the University Place reports on Monday, but the closure happened on Wednesday.

"We wanted to make sure it wasn't an anomaly," said Sherman. "We take it seriously when we close a restaurant and during norovirus remediation we discard all of the food. They have to clean thoroughly in the restaurant so it's a large impact."

Health investigators are still trying to figure out how customers were exposed at the University Place location.

In Tacoma, they think it may have been the chips and salsa.

"It can be a batch that was made because it's all about people -- who's making the food? So, norovirus is not spread through coughing or breathing. Itt's spread through fecal matter, and so people have to ingest it which means it comes from people," said Sherman.

A Tacoma man posted on Yelp that he and his wife had dinner at the Tacoma restaurant on a Thursday and the next night both he and his wife got sick.

He said the common thing was the salsa.

El Toro has released a statement, saying "the well being of our guests has been our highest priority."

But it said norovirus "found its way into our doors."

"When we were informed of the outbreak in one of our restaurants, we immediately took corrective action to deep clean our establishment from top to bottom, sanitizing down to the last utensil. We have also alerted our other locations with instructions on how to prevent further propagation of the virus, as well as the importance of employees not coming to work if ill. We understand how troubling this news is to our loyal guests. Because of that, we are taking precautionary measures at each restaurant (even though there is no evidence that the virus is present), including a voluntary early closing to deep clean and sanitize, in order to further protect our guests.

"We take this opportunity to apologize to our guests that became ill after dining with us. We would hope to earn your trust and enjoy the opportunity of serving you again."

No one from either of the El Toro Restaurant locations was willing to comment for this story.

If you ate at El Toro Restaurant and became ill, contact the Health Department at food@tpchd.org, report online at www.tpchd.org/reportfoodborneillness, or call 253-798-4712.

Learn more about norovirus at www.tpchd.org/norovirus.

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