In April of 2002, the Toe River Health District received over 900 telephone calls from individuals who had eaten food at Western Sizzlin’ restaurant in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. A Salmonella outbreak among people who had eaten at the restaurant between April 18 and April 30 resulted in 369 reported illnesses that may have been linked to the outbreak, with 39 lab-confirmed cases of Salmonella infection identified.
Environmental Health (EH) personnel from the Mitchell County Health Department (MCHD) inspected the restaurant, noting deficiencies. The EH team also collected food samples from an individual patron who had taken food home. These specimens were sent to the State Laboratory for Public Health (SLPH) for analysis. The Health Director, EH Supervisor, and Regional EH Supervisor visited the restaurant and asked the manager to voluntarily close the restaurant pending the results of the epidemiological study. EH obtained samples from the restaurant and sent them to SLPH for testing.
Two asymptomatic employees of the restaurant were found to be infected with Salmonella; however, both individuals had eaten food prepared at the restaurant and it could not be determined whether they were infected after eating at the restaurant or one or both of them was the source of the outbreak.
When testing was completed, SLPH reported that leftovers taken home by an individual, including hamburger steak with gravy, fried chicken, and ham, tested positive for the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg. In addition to food items, an applicator stick marked “gravy” that was taken from the restaurant tested positive. Unfortunately, public health officials were unable to pinpoint the source of the Salmonella outbreak at Western Sizzlin’.
Marler Clark represented 31 individuals in claims against Western Sizzlin’. The claims were resolved in 2003.