While there appeared to be a correlation between consumption of Grab `n’ Go items and students’ reported gastrointestinal symptoms early this month, the D.C. Department of Health was not able to determine the origin of norovirus in its recently concluded investigation.

In a report published on its Web site on Friday, the DOH listed its finding for the virus’ etiology, or cause, only as a possible combination of person-to-person contact, contaminated food or contaminated surfaces.

However, the report does note a strong relationship between the afflicted students who were surveyed by DOH and their consumption of Grab `n’ Go food.

“We can state with 95 percent certainty that those students who purchased food from the Grab `n’ Go station . were 2.9 times more likely to become ill than those who did not purchase food from the Grab `n’ Go station,” the report states.

Organic To Go, a Seattle-based food service company and organic food retailer, began supplying several Grab `n’ Go items this fall, but university spokesperson Julie Bataille reported last week that the university had terminated its contract with the service for the foreseeable future. Instead, ARAMARK Higher Education, which manages campus dining, will supply its own food for the station.

“When we reopened [O’Donovan Hall], we proactively agreed with the Department of Health to do so preparing our own Grab `n’ Go items as there was enough reason to suspect a potential link between those items and the virus on campus,” Bataille said last week.

However, Stephanie Sampiere, vice president of corporate communications at Organic To Go, noted that a number of food options at the Grab `n’ Go station, including pre-packaged muffins, cookies and fruit, are provided and stocked by ARAMARK.

Sampiere also said that Organic To Go food is prepared in a central kitchen that serves thousands of customers, which previously supplied O’Donovan Hall as well. The central kitchen, located in the D.C. metro area, passed a routine DOH inspection on Oct. 1 and a Food and Drug Administration inspection last week, she added.

“The company served food prepared at this commissary kitchen to thousands of customers – not only at Georgetown, but through our catering operations and in Organic To Go cafes – and received absolutely no complaints or indication of concern from any of its customers,” Sampiere said.

Students were first treated for symptoms resembling gastrointestinal disorders at Georgetown University Hospital on Sept. 30. In the days that followed, the number of ill students climbed drastically, reaching a high of 212 treated students only one week later, the university reported. The health department was brought in to investigate on Oct. 1 and, the next day, informed the university that tests confirmed it was the highly contagious norovirus.

The report said that 204 Georgetown students reported symptoms consistent with those related to norovirus. The health department interviewed 119 of these individuals in their investigation.

LaShon Beamon, the interim communications director at the DOH, said that the outbreak demonstrates the importance of maintaining high sanitary conditions.

“The big takeaway from this outbreak and for life is proper hand washing. I can’t stress it enough,” she said.

Click to view the health department’s report

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