Salmonella outbreak closes On the Border restaurant

Health officials made decision on east Vancouver restaurant Tuesday morning

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

Updated: October 9, 2012, 7:35 PM

 

A salmonella outbreak prompted Clark County Public Health to shut down an east Vancouver restaurant Tuesday.

Health officials have traced 11 confirmed cases and five probable cases of salmonella to the Mexican restaurant On the Border at 1505 S.E. 164th Ave. Two of the cases have resulted in hospitalization due to dehydration, a potential consequence of salmonella, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer.

“The only thing these folks have in common is, they ate at the restaurant,” Melnick said, referring to the cases as a salmonella outbreak.

All 16 cases involve adult customers, who ate at the restaurant between Sept. 20 and Oct. 8. Health officials urge anyone who ate at the restaurant between those dates and is experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms to contact a health care provider.

CCPH closed the restaurant Tuesday morning to continue its investigation and slow transmission of the illness.

The last known case of salmonella linked to the restaurant presented itself in late September, so health officials are unsure whether the bacteria are still being transmitted, Melnick said. The closure is a precaution, he said.

Health officials are unsure whether the bacteria spread on a contaminated surface or food product, or whether a food handler passed the illness to customers, Melnick said.

As a result, health officials are inspecting the restaurant and requiring staff to throw away any opened food and all ice. In addition, health officials are testing all food handlers at the restaurant for salmonella. The restaurant will remain closed until all test results are back from the lab, which will likely take a few days, Melnick said.

It is possible for someone to have salmonella, show no signs of the illness and still pass it to someone else, he said.

Salmonella is a bacterial infection spread by fecal-oral transmission. People are most often infected by eating or drinking contaminated food or water or by contact with infected people or animals, according to health officials.

Salmonella symptoms can include severe diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, fever, chills, abdominal discomfort and occasionally vomiting. The symptoms generally appear one to three days after exposure. Most people recover on their own without medication.

Salmonella’s potential complications include meningitis, kidney infection, heart infection and dehydration, Melnick said.

Record of cleanliness

Jake Parmer, operations director for the Vancouver restaurant, said the restaurant takes food safety, and employee and customer health, seriously. All managers are certified in food safety and all team members are trained in the safe handling of food and cooking, Parmer said.

In addition, the restaurant contracts with a third-party vendor to audit the restaurant’s food safety practices and cleanliness. The restaurant has received good scores from the vendor and county health inspectors, he said.

“It’s definitely a surprise to all of us,” Parmer said, “but we’re doing everything we can to cooperate with the health department.”

CCPH inspects all restaurants multiple times each year. Zero is a perfect score; public health closes restaurants with scores of 100 or more.

On the Border’s most recent inspection, on May 23, earned the restaurant only a 5-point deduction for improper maintenance, cleaning or sanitizing of food surfaces, according to health department records. Before that, the Feb. 17 inspection resulted in a perfect score.

While health officials occasionally close restaurants for violations revealed during inspections, Melnick couldn’t recall the last time CCPH closed a restaurant due to an illness outbreak.

In November 1995, health officials shut down the Izzy’s Pizza Restaurant in Hazel Dell after numerous people experienced abdominal cramping and diarrhea after eating at the restaurant. Health officials determined the illness was likely due to bacteria in tea bags.


Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.