Two locally popular restaurants on opposite sides of the country are proving once again that when it comes to eating and drinking establishments, going with the crowd is no protection from foodborne illness.

Popular restaurants–even those with good overall scores on restaurant inspections—can quickly spread a pathogen if they have unsanitary habits they cannot kick.

That may be the case for both Los Dos Amigos on Southeast Jackson Street in Roseburg, OR and Bullock’s Bar B Que on Quebec Street in Durham, NC.  Public health officials in Oregon and North Carolina believe the two restaurants may be responsible for unrelated Salmonella outbreaks.

The two outbreaks so far involve seven confirmed cases in Oregon, and at least 15 in North Carolina.  Both outbreak investigations are continuing and additional testing now at laboratories is likely to raise the number of confirmed cases.

Salmonellosis is an acute bacterial infection that can cause diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramping, and sometimes vomiting.  Symptoms usually develop within one to five days after exposure.

When Salmonella enters a restaurant on a food item–like chicken— it can quickly spread if a restaurant’s sanitary practices are lacking.   Los Dos Amigos and Bullock’s both passed their recent inspections with fairly high scores.

However, the two establishments racked up a total of 11 “red” or  “critical” violations in 2009 and 2010.  These are the violations most critical to food safety.

The details of the critical violations at Los Dos Amigos were not readily available, but Bullock’s are easy to read on the NC Department of Environmental Health Website.

In August 2009, Bullock’s was written up for two “red” violations.  Its dish machine was not “sanitizing” and there was “scum” inside the ice machine.   The second violation was for employees placing their personal beverages on food preparation, risking spillage and cross-contamination.

In November 2009, Bullock’s again got a “red” violation for that “scum” inside the ice machine.

In January 2010, the inspection resulted in one “red” violation for the need to improve the cutting board to ensure it could be cleaned and sanitized.

Then in February 2010, two “red” violations were issued, one for that “scum” being found again in the ice machine and another for the fried chicken holding unit not maintaining a required temperature of 135 F or above.

Los Dos Amigos got two “red” violations last year and three in 2010.

Public health officials in both states want to make sure people who dined at the restaurants during the periods when people were getting sick seek medical attention if experiencing any of the symptoms.   In Oregon, the period involved is between April 9 and 17, 2010.  The North Carolina, people began getting ill after April 20.

A specific suspected food item for the outbreak has not been named for either Roseburg or Durham.