LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The illness which struck around 400 diners at top British restaurant The Fat Duck was possibly caused by the highly contagious "norovirus" but definitely not by food poisoning, its owner has said.
Heston Blumenthal, widely regarded as one of the world's greatest chefs, said exhaustive tests on staff and customers had suggested the infection was the only likely cause of the outbreak of illness.
The award-winning restaurant in Bray, Berkshire, which has three Michelin stars, was forced to close on February 24 after diners were struck by diarrhea and vomiting.
It reopened two weeks later after being given the all clear by health and environmental inspectors. Blumenthal said 200 tests had been carried out and all had come back negative for food poisoning or hygiene problems.
"It is categorically not food poisoning, we know that," the chef told Hospitality magazine during a trip to Australia.
"The only thing that has come up is that three staff and five customers have been tested positive for something called norovirus."
The highly infectious virus, which is common in Britain over the winter months, brings on symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and muscle pain.
The Health Protection Agency said last week investigations into the cause were continuing.
"Results of some tests are still awaited and the detailed questioning of people who reported illness is likely to continue for some weeks in order to build a more complete picture," it said in a statement.
The Fat Duck, which charges 130 pounds ($189.4) for its 17-course tasting menu, is famed for its chemistry-inspired dishes such as snail porridge and bacon-and-eggs ice cream. Blumenthal has been described as a "culinary alchemist."
The illness had meant that bookings for 800 people at the 40-seat restaurant, which first opened its doors in 1995, had been canceled, but news of the problem had not deterred customers from wanting to come in, Blumenthal said.
Reporting by Michael Holden, editing by Paul Casciato