La Luz Mexican Grill Salmonella Outbreak and Litigation - Colorado (2018)
An outbreak of Salmonella Javiana occurred in August of 2018 among patrons of La Luz restaurant in Fort Collins, Colorado. Thirty-one laboratory confirmed cases were included in the outbreak, including 6 employees of the restaurant. Analysis of data did not determine a food-specific cause for the outbreak.
The Larimer County Department of Health & Environment (LCDHE) received a complaint on Thursday, August 16, 2018, from an individual that reported dining at the restaurant on August 10, 2018. The complainant indicated that she/he dined with two employees from that restaurant. The complainant reported becoming ill approximately 15 hours after eating at the restaurant and reported that the employees with whom she/he had dined also become ill.
On Friday, August 17, 2018, routine follow-up of a reported Salmonella case from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment communicable disease reporting system identified that this case had dined at the restaurant on August 9, 2018. Also on August 17, LCDHE staff conducted an on-site investigation/inspection at the restaurant. The restaurant’s management reported that four employees had been ill with the “stomach flu” on Thursday, August 9, 2018, and that these employees were still out sick and had not returned to work as of August 17, 2018. LCDHE noted several food safety violations, including improper cooling and cold storage, employee drinking cups in food preparation areas, no hand soap at hand washing sinks, flies in the kitchen, soiled kitchen utensils and storage areas, a dirty and disconnected copper pipe on a shelf above clean dishes, old food containers used for food storage, and an unshielded glass flood light.
On Monday, August 20, 2018, LCDHE staff made a second on-site visit to the restaurant. The operator was notified that all of the establishment’s employees would need to be interviewed to determine scope of duties at the restaurant and to provide information on recent health status; employees were instructed to submit rectal swabs to test for Salmonella. By Tuesday, August 21, 2018, five laboratory confirmed Salmonella cases had been identified, and all reported eating at the restaurant between Thursday, August 9, 2018, and Sunday, August 12, 2018. All five cases had been hospitalized. LCDHE staff conducted a third site visit that afternoon, and the establishment was requested to voluntarily close and discontinue all food preparation and sale of food; it closed late that afternoon.
An illness questionnaire was developed by CDPHE Epi Division, and 85 individuals completed the questionnaire. All individuals who completed the questionnaire reported eating food from the restaurant, and 61 of those people reported symptoms of gastrointestinal illness. Of the 61 individuals, 30 (49%) were female and 31 (51%) were males. Ages ranged from 4 years to 72 years of age with the median age of 36 years. Onset of illness ranged from 2 hours to 243.5 hours with an average of 59.6 hours. Duration of symptoms ranged from 1 day to 17 days with median of 6 days (mean of 6 days). Despite an analysis of foods consumed by the people interviewed, no specific food was noted to be associated with illness.
Overall, 31 individuals were laboratory confirmed positive for Salmonella Javiana, including six of 20 restaurant employees. Cases were confirmed through culture and/or PCR; all cases had matching PFGE patterns. Five cases reported being hospitalized and no deaths were associated with this outbreak. On September 6, 2018, LCDHE approved the establishment to reopen to the public. The establishment reopened to the public on September 11, 2018, only to close for business permanently shortly after.
Marler Clark filed two lawsuits on behalf of individuals sickened in the outbreak and settled both cases.