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LongHorn Steakhouse reopens after illness issue is addressed

The Erie County Department of Health said it found no evidence that unsafe food-handling practices caused an outbreak of sickness associated with the LongHorn Steakhouse in Cheektowaga.

Department officials said that no major food violations were found during their inspection and that employees were wearing gloves and practicing good hand washing. LongHorn, 2015 Walden Ave., reopened at 6 p.m. Thursday.

“We didn’t find anything that caused us to be suspicious or to believe the illness was a result of unsafe food-handling practices,” said Dr. Gale R. Burstein, the county health commissioner.

Burstein said the department suspects that norovirus, which is highly contagious, could be to blame. The virus causes stomach and intestinal inflammation, resulting in diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms usually develop within 12 to 48 hours of exposure. Those with the illness typically experience symptoms for one to three days, but can still be contagious once they’re feeling better.

The steakhouse voluntarily closed Wednesday night after some customers and employees reported having flulike symptoms. Five employees went home sick Saturday. Several customers who ate at the restaurant since Saturday have reported similar illness. There is no official count of customers who reported sickness.

The Health Department inspected the restaurant and said it found no violations or concerns.

The restaurant was sanitized overnight Wednesday with the intention of reopening late Thursday afternoon, according to company spokesman Rich Jeffers, a spokesman for Darden Restaurants, of Orlando, Fla., owner of LongHorn. Jeffers said the restaurant also underwent a second sanitation process.

“The health and safety of our guests and team members is our top priority, which is why we took the additional step of voluntarily closing our restaurant,” the restaurant said in a statement.