A seemingly irresistible deal for $1 burritos at Big Wig Tacos & Burritos in downtown Evanston city in Illinois USA, has led to a health crisis affecting Northwestern students and local residents.
The Evanston Health and Human Services Department issued a warning on Wednesday after tracking a norovirus outbreak connected to the budget-friendly burrito special. Investigating in collaboration with Northwestern University, health officials discovered a spike in reported cases of stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea following an event on Saturday, Nov. 18, where the restaurant offered $1 burritos exclusively to university students between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The affected establishment, located at 950 Church St., came under immediate scrutiny as the Health Department received complaints. Subsequently, a thorough inspection of Big Wig Tacos & Burritos was conducted, examining cleaning and sanitizing procedures. Despite the restaurant having an employee health policy in place, concerns arose regarding potential lapses.
What is Norovirus? Symptoms and Prevention
To address the situation, the department has requested everyone who attended the event on Nov. 18, irrespective of illness, to complete a questionnaire. Norovirus, often mistaken for the “stomach flu,” can cause symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain.
Norovirus infection can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea that start suddenly. Noroviruses are highly contagious. They commonly spread through food or water that is contaminated during preparation or through contaminated surfaces. Noroviruses can also spread through close contact with a person who has norovirus infection.
Cases of norovirus—a common viral stomach illness—tend to occur in the U.S. between November and April. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been at least 13 cruise ship outbreaks so far in 2023. But norovirus causes about 20 million cases each year in the U.S. with more than 100,000 hospitalizations,
Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, stressed the importance of handwashing in preventing the virus’s spread during food preparation.
Dr. Wallace explained, “Handwashing is super important for prevention, and that’s why every single bathroom at every eating establishment you see has, ‘Employees must wash hands before returning to work’ – because this is really important when you’re preparing food for people.”
While the exact number of affected students remains unclear, Dr. Wallace highlighted that norovirus typically lasts between one and three days, advising those affected to stay hydrated. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary, with dehydration exacerbating the condition.
Despite the ongoing investigation, Big Wig Tacos & Burritos President Jose Estrada responded to the allegations on Facebook, expressing uncertainty about the outbreak’s origin. Estrada assured the public of the restaurant’s commitment to health and safety, detailing comprehensive measures, including thorough cleaning and sanitization.
As the restaurant closed its doors for the day during our visit to the Evanston location, the community remains on edge, awaiting further updates on the investigation and the extent of the norovirus outbreak.