In late June of 2003, the Lake County Health Department (LCHD) was contacted by health care providers who had treated patients for Salmonellosis, and customers who had experienced a diarrheal illness after eating at the Vernon Hills, Illinois, Chili’s Grill & Bar. LCHD sent investigators to inspect the restaurant for food safety violations. During the inspection, investigators discovered:
- The restaurant’s dishwashing machine was broken and corroded; the tube that fed chlorine into the machine was plugged, preventing proper sanitization of dishes. Employees told investigators that the machine had not worked properly for at least a week.
- Food was not stored at proper temperatures in the cooler.
- Three employees and a manager had called in sick that day with flu-like symptoms.
LCHD continued to receive reports of Salmonella infection from local hospitals and restaurant patrons throughout the next several days.
During the course of investigating the outbreak, investigators discovered that thirteen employees had been allowed to work despite suffering from diarrhea and other symptoms, and learned that Chili’s had operated despite having no water for part of one day, and no hot water for at least one full day. Food safety regulations require that hot water be available at all times during a restaurant’s operation.
In mid-July, LCHD concluded its investigation, and reported that over 300 individuals had been sickened as a result of consuming contaminated food at a Chili’s. Of those, 141 customers and 28 employees had tested positive for Salmonella, while 105 other infected individuals met the LCHD’s definition of a probable case. LCHD issued a preliminary report that concluded the outbreak was caused by infected employees who contaminated food with Salmonella as a result of poor sanitary practices and improper food-handling.
Marler Clark represented 49 individuals in claims against Chili’s after they became ill with Salmonella infections. The claims were resolved in August of 2004.