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On the Border restaurant facing federal suit in Salmonella case

A Georgia couple has filed suit against On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina alleging their Mother’s Day meal resulted in a Salmonella infection, a two-week hospital stay and lingering health problems that likely will never end.

Amanda and Jason Cureton filed the civil suit in federal court in Atlanta on Aug. 29. The Marietta, GA, couple ate takeout from and on the Border location in the Atlanta suburb of Kennesaw on May 14. The meal consisted of chips and salsa to start and beef fajitas as the entree.

Soon after eating, Amanda started feeling ill and experiencing symptoms that included nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and headache. She sought emergency medical treatment and was admitted to the hospital, where she had to stay for 12 days. She was diagnosed with an infection from Salmonella that was linked back to the On the Border location.

Since her hospitalization, Amanda continues to suffer from severe stomach cramping, fatigue and has been diagnosed with diverticulitis and Crohn’s Disease. She and her husband Jason have incurred significant medical expenses.

Other patrons of the Kennesaw, GA, restaurant also reported becoming ill after eating food on Mother’s Day weekend, but local health officials did not reveal the outbreak until late July.

The Cobb & Douglas (Counties) Public Health Department investigated, said Communications Director Valerie Crow, but she would not say how the department found out about the illnesses. She also declined to say whether the inspectors collected any environmental swab samples from the restaurant for pathogen testing.

“Cobb & Douglas Public Health was notified of the situation on June 2, and an on-site investigation was conducted on June 6, which went through food flow processes for suspected foods, an employee health policy review, and evaluation of the facility in regard to food handling, cleanliness, etc. There were also some subsequent site visits to verify compliance,” Crow told Food Safety News in late July.

During the June 6 inspection, county officials documented five violations, resulting in a score of 89 out of 100 and a Grade B rating, according to the inspection report posted online.

Among the problems found were foods being held at temperatures in the so-called danger zone, which allows pathogens such as Salmonella to easily and quickly multiply. Specifically, inspectors measured chicken and cheese stuffed jalapeño peppers at temperatures between 47 degrees and 53 degrees.

“It is unfortunate that the Cobb and Douglas Public Health officials did not alert the public of this outbreak,” said Bill Marler, Seattle food safety attorney for the plaintiff who is working with the Atlanta firm of Moraitakis & Kushel on the case.

“Anyone who consumed food from the restaurant and became ill around the time of the outbreak, should have had the opportunity to be notified and seek medical attention immediately.”

Salmonella bacteria are usually transmitted to humans by the consumption of foods or beverages contaminated with animal feces or foods handled by food services workers practicing poor hygiene.

Foods contaminated with Salmonella usually don’t look or smell bad. It is often found in meat and poultry, but also sometimes contaminates vegetables and fruit. Thorough cooking kills Salmonella.

Editor’s note: Bill Marler, founding member of the Seattle law firm Marler Clark LLP, is publisher of Food Safety News.

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