Tabitha’s Way Local Food Pantry in Spanish Fork is the latest Utah food establishment where patrons may have been exposed to the viral liver disease hepatitis A, according to the Utah County Health Department.
Patrons who picked up non-canned food from the pantry between Dec. 29 and Jan. 3 should go to health.utah.gov/investigation, to find out if they should get a vaccination to prevent illness, health officials said Thursday morning.
Residents can also contact the Utah County Health Department via phone at 801-851-HEPA (4372) for vaccine information.
Food at the pantry was donated by the Olive Garden restaurant in Spanish Fork — facing its own exposure due to an infected employee — so officials worry the highly-contagious disease could have reached the pantry’s food stocks.
But Rich Jeffers, a spokesman for Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden, said Thursday the restaurant knows “for certain the individual who was diagnosed never handled any food.”
Jeffers said the infected employee was a “front-of-the house employee,” and not among workers handling food prepared as part of Olive Garden’s donation program.
That program includes soups and sauces prepared each morning in the kitchen, with portions sealed and stored in bags for possible use by the restaurant or for donation. The infected employee, Jeffers said, would not have come in contact with the bags.
But customers of the Olive Garden, located at 1092 N. Canyon Creek Parkway, could have been exposed from Dec. 21 to Dec. 30, Utah County health officials have previously said. They also said customers of the Spanish Fork Sonic Drive-In, 971 N. Main St., on Dec. 23 or 24 should also be aware they may have been exposed.
The Olive Garden — which has only been open about a month — has since undergone a two-day “full sanitization,” Jeffers said. “We’ve been fully cooperative,” he said. “We want to be part of the solution.”
Officials urge patrons of any of the three Utah County locations to swiftly determine if they have been previously vaccinated and to seek one from their health provider if not — although for many it may be too late, as the vaccine must be administered within 14 days of an exposure to be effective.
Hepatitis A typically spreads when traces of infected feces reach the mouth through contaminated food, water or unclean hands. The disease inflames the liver, and can occasionally be deadly. Symptoms include vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and jaundice, or yellowing of the skin.
“At this point we have plenty of Hepatitis A vaccine here at the health department,” Ralph Clegg, the Utah County Health Department executive director, said in a statement. “We are doing our best to plan ahead and don’t anticipate any issues at this point.”