As of Wednesday, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health had confirmed 20 cases of salmonella. In addition, the health board is investigating 61 “probable cases” and one “suspect case” connected to patrons of the restaurant, says Chris Kippes, the board’s director of epidemiology and surveillance.
“The restaurant’s owners (Earl Stein and Ken Kurland) have been very cooperative throughout this investigation,” Kippes adds.
The front door of Corky & Lenny’s is plastered with identical flyers signed by Stein and Kurland explaining: “We are sure that by now you have heard the Cuyahoga County Board of Health is investigating us. We have been in business for 50 years and this has never happened before … once this mystery is resolved we will reopen our doors to bring back our quality of food and service to you.”
Corky & Lenny’s has a licensed sanitarian on staff to ensure all health procedures are followed, remarks deli co-owner Stein. Temperature logs are kept to ensure food is heated and cooled properly. Signs in the bathroom tell employees to wash their hands.
When the health board’s investigation ends and the deli reopens, hopefully by the end of this week, remarks Stein, the sanitarian will be on hand every day. Asked if he’s worried about the possibility of legal action from sick patrons, Stein hopes it doesn’t come to that.
Salmonella is transmitted to humans eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Raw foods such as eggs, meat products, and poultry are frequently contaminated, but thorough cooking kills the bacteria. Food also can become contaminated by an infected food handler who forgot to wash his or her hands with soap after using the bathroom.
Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment.
The first case of salmonella was reported to the health board Feb. 6. At least two people have been hospitalized and have since been discharged. The Plain Dealer reported Feb. 10 that the restaurant’s matzo ball soup, made with eggs and chicken fat, is the likely carrier of the bacteria.
However, health officials have forwarded samples of every item on the menu, as well as stool samples from workers that handle food, to the Ohio Department of Health for analysis. Lab results could be back by the end of the week, reports Kippes.
A Cleveland man who ate at Corky & Lenny’s Jan. 30 became sick from a chopped liver sandwich, he told the CJN. The man, who asked to remain anonymous, suffered from acute stomach pain two days after his visit to the restaurant. He has eaten at the deli three days a week for years, he remarks.
He spent three days in the hospital, initially misdiagnosed with appendicitis and later with colitis. He was home for two days when he received a call from his primary care doctor; the final diagnosis was salmonella infection.
After 48 hours of worrying about a new life dealing with colitis, the salmonella diagnosis “was almost a relief,” he quips.
The Clevelander still has diarrhea a week after his release from the hospital, but is generally feeling better, he says. He’s keeping a close eye on the health board’s investigation and doesn’t know if he’ll return to Corky & Lenny’s. He’s considering legal action if the investigation turns up a hygiene issue at the restaurant.
While deli management and patrons await lab results, county health board officials have been providing additional education and training on food protection to restaurant staff, says board epidemiology director Kippes.
Procedures include properly heating and cooling food as well as practicing proper hygiene. Restaurants where raw meat, poultry, or fish are prepared in advance and thereby require reheating during preparation receive at least two standard inspections and two critical control point inspections every 15 months, according to Ohio Department of Health guidelines.
“This is our worst nightmare,” Stein says of the investigation. “We don’t want to get anybody sick.”