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Food illness not linked to pizza restaurant

An e-mail about a potential food-borne illness in Alexandria last week spread more quickly than the real thing would have.

And as it turned out, the restaurant that the e-mail said was initially linked to the outbreak, Godfather's Pizza, had nothing to do with the illness.

The e-mail was intended to be communicated among health professionals only, advising them that if they treated patients suffering from abdominal pain and other stomach-flu symptoms to ask the patients where they had eaten.

Public health officials wanted to see if a link could be traced to Godfather's, where a possible link to one family was being investigated with the full cooperation of the restaurant.

But after the Minnesota Department of Health completed its investigation, it determined Godfather's was not the source of the illness.

In the meantime, however, the original e-mail was still making the rounds, being forwarded among friends, relatives and co-workers.

The result: A drastic drop in business at Godfather's.

Sandy Tubbs, director of Douglas County Public Health, issued the following statement about the incident:

"Following a thorough investigation by the Minnesota Department of Health Epidemiology Section and the Douglas County Environmental Health staff, it has been determined that Godfather's Pizza was not the source of a food-borne illness outbreak. The incredible cooperation from the owner and all of the staff at Godfather's Pizza contributed significantly to the rapid investigation and ultimately, the conclusion that there was no food-borne illness outbreak associated with Godfather's Pizza."

Godfather's Pizza owner Mike Hastings noted that the system worked - up to a point - because of the quick response from the Douglas County Public Health and the Minnesota Health Department. But even after the investigation clearly showed that Godfather's had nothing to do with the outbreak, there was no way to stop the rampant e-mails from circulating.

He described the impact on his business as devastating. He said the incident has left him feeling like a victim of misinformation.

"When the toothpaste is out of the tube, it's hard to put it back in," Hastings said. "We hope that people realize there was never a problem at Godfather's - that we investigated really fast and had nothing to do with it."