As the Bay Area gets used to being back indoors for dinner, and just a couple of months after the iconic House of Prime Rib began welcoming guests back after a brief fall reopening and a winter hiatus, a small wave of complaints about food poisoning have come in to the Department of Public Health (DPH) — and the restaurant's Yelp page.
Prime rib isn't particularly well-cooked beef to begin with — and the restaurant was told after an April inspection that its menus need to come with a disclaimer about possible foodborne illness from under-cooked beef or eggs. But the issue may go deeper than that, as the restaurant's longtime owner Joseph Betz tells the Chronicle that he and his staff are investigating what the source of illnesses might be.
"We tried to isolate this and tried to isolate that," he said. "We really don’t have an answer but I think we're getting closer to the problem, and maybe it’s the product."
The total number of complaints, compared to how many people have dined there in the last several months, appears small, though the complaints date back to at least early April, as the Chronicle reports. At that time, DPH sent in an inspector, who found only two "lower risk violations" which were immediately fixed. One was the menu advisory, and the other was a meat grinder had food debris buildup — so, the latter would be unrelated to any suspected prime rib orders.
There are a couple of credible-seeming Yelp reviews from last weekend alone that mention being sick after eating there, including one woman from Dallas who had to fly home sick the next day, she said.
Betz says he's skeptical about the wave of Instagram mentions about illnesses from the restaurant, saying to the Chronicle, "There is no way in the world that many people got sick. We would know it."
DPH also doesn't seem overly concerned, saying they will "take further additional steps if epidemiological information suggests a link between the practices of the restaurant in question and the recent alleged food borne illness complaints."
But maybe it's just that so many people have been eating at home for so long, their tummies aren't ready for semi-raw red meat!
No doubt some people have gotten sick, but the cause remains unclear. Also, as the Chronicle notes, there has been an unrelated but nonetheless intriguing uptick in norovirus outbreaks in Texas and Nebraska as those states have been opening back up. Coincidence? In a normal year, the U.S. sees 19 million to 21 million cases of norovirus a year — and as one infectious disease specialist notes, unlike coronavirus, norovirus is resistant to most alcohol-based hand-sanitizing gels.