By: Candess Zona-Mendola

Fresh Mexican food lovers in New Haven, Connecticut are on notice this week as a local Mexican grill has been implicated in a Salmonella outbreak. The local health agencies, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) and the New Haven Health Department (NHHD) have announced that the city’s Cilantro Fresh Mexican Grill is the source for a cluster of Salmonella infections. The number of those sick is still pending confirmation, and the local health agencies are seeking information at this time from anyone who may have eaten at Cilantro Fresh Mexican Grill and become sick.

Cilantro Fresh Mexican Grill Closes Its Doors

Although the health agencies have confirmed the restaurant’s compliance with the investigation at hand, the restaurant has closed for a different reason. A sign on its front door claims that its closure this week was due to a broken pipe and water damages, not the Salmonella outbreak. The restaurant’s owners remain mum as to the outbreak. It is not yet known when the 1158 Whalley Ave., New Haven, Connecticut location will reopen.

Investigation Details Pending

The NHHD and DPH have not commented on a number of cases potentially linked to the outbreak. As part of the investigation, both agencies have announced that they are looking for others who may have become ill after eating at Cilantro Fresh Mexican Grill. The health agencies have notified the public that they are seeking any patrons of the restaurant that may have become ill in recent days.

According to the DPH’s website:

“What should people do if they ate at the restaurant during June and feel sick?

Patrons who dined at the restaurant and got sick with fever, nausea, diarrhea, and/or vomiting should consult with their physician, especially if they are still experiencing symptoms.

Patrons with symptoms should not prepare food or drinks for others and should wash their hands with soap and water frequently to prevent spreading the bacteria to others.

Patrons who became or are sick are encouraged to call the Department of Public Health at 860-509-7994 on Monday, July 3rd to report their illness.”

The agencies have confirmed that any patron who dined at Cilantro Fresh Mexican Grill in June and have not had symptoms of Salmonella or food poisoning do not need special medical evaluation or treatment at this time.

There is also not yet an indication of the food source, if any. In outbreaks such as these, contamination could come from a sick employee, undercooked meats, improperly washed produce, or other types of cross-contamination. The agencies have not yet commented if a sick employee is the culprit for contamination.

In the meantime, the agencies will likely conduct interviews of those who have reported their illnesses. If not yet done so, the agencies will likely also inspect the restaurant and obtain food samples for testing. Some victims may have also submitted specimens for testing to determine the species of Salmonella involved in their case. We anticipate these details will be forthcoming in the coming week.

Salmonella

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that approximately 1.2 million illnesses of Salmonella infection occur in the United States each year and 450 deaths attributed to the infection. Salmonella is one of the most common types of foodborne illness, and peaks during the winter and summer seasons.

Those who have become infected with Salmonella will usually show symptoms of infection within 6 to 72 hours. These symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea;
  • Fatigue;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Headache;
  • Fever; and
  • Abdominal cramps

However, those who are at high risk for Salmonella infections may have more severe symptoms, including dehydration and severe diarrhea. Young children, older adults, and those weakened immune systems (like transplant or HIV patients) are the most likely to have more severe infections. In many of these cases, hospitalization may be required. Early medical intervention for those in the high risk group is recommended, as treatment may reduce the risk of future complications.

In this outbreak, the species of Salmonella has not yet been released. As a diagnosis of Salmonella poisoning (salmonellosis) is usually conducted through a stool test, those who believe they are sick with Salmonella should request one if their physician has not yet ordered such testing.

There are potential long-term consequences of Salmonella poisoning. Some of these include:

  • Reactive arthritis (pain in joints)
  • Ongoing bowel issues
  • Bloodstream infection
  • Eye irritation
  • Painful urination

Many complications of Salmonella infections, such as reactive arthritis, can become chronic in nature, and last from a few months to even years.

Prevention

As with most foodborne illnesses, Salmonella is preventable. The infection is typically linked to a food source, like unwashed product and undercooked meats, but animal vectors have also become implicated in recent outbreaks. This year alone has seen eight separate outbreaks, contributing to a massive nationwide collection of illnesses— all of which have been linked to handing poultry.

The best line of defense against Salmonella infections is hand washing. By cooking foods to their proper optimum internal temperatures, one can also prevent Salmonella illness. Many cases of Salmonella are caused from cross-contamination of raw foods with ready-to-eat foods. By separating raw food from ready-to-eat ones in your refrigerator and using different utensils for raw items, one can reduce the risk of infection. As always, sanitizing and disinfecting cooking surfaces and not washing raw poultry in the sink are also good ways to ensure Salmonella does not grow in your kitchen and infect your family.

Those in the high risk group should also avoid foods containing raw eggs, such as: homemade Hollandaise sauce, Caesar and other homemade salad dressings, tiramisu, homemade ice cream, homemade mayonnaise, cookie dough, and frostings according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unpasteurized milk is also a potential host for Salmonella bacteria, among other dangerous pathogens.

Those who have become ill with Salmonella should refrain from preparing food until such time as they have recovered.

UnsafeFoods will continue to follow the details of this outbreak as they unfold. You can check back routinely for updates as they are forthcoming.

 

Sources:

http://www.ct.gov/dph/cwp/view.asp?A=4922&Q=594350

https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/general/index.html