A restaurant in Aurora, CO, closed at the request of public health officials Friday because of an E. coli outbreak among its customers. Multiple media outlets in the area reported that Pho 75, 2050 S. Havana Street, is part of an investigation into an E. coli O157 outbreak that had four confirmed victims as of Saturday. Alicia Cronquist, foodborne disease program manager with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told local media that state officials believe there are likely additional victims. One of the four confirmed victims, a 14-year-old boy who ate at the restaurant May 24 with his family, had such severe symptoms that hospitalization was required. The Denver Fox News affiliate interviewed the boy’s father, Marc Thompson. Fox31 Denver reported Thompson and his wife felt ill a few hours after eating at Pho 75, but their son Noah developed severe symptoms. They took him to the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children emergency room where he was admitted to the intensive care unit with a severe case of pancreatitis. “Thompson said his son finally got his first bit of good news from doctors. He had just been cleared to eat his first solid food of the month. Doctors also said they expected him to turn the corner,” Fox31 Denver reported Saturday. “Despite the positive news, Noah Thompson is still days, possibly weeks, away from going home.” Health officials urge anyone who has eaten at the restaurant and developed E. coli infection symptoms to seek medical attention. People of any age can become infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but very young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe illness and life-threatening complications including hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill. The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea that is often bloody, and vomiting. If there is fever, it usually is not very high — less than 101 degrees F. Most people get better within five to seven days. Colorado public health officials stressed that the outbreak linked to the Pho 75 restaurant is not related to the ongoing nationwide E. coli outbreak associated with General Mills flour. The two outbreaks involve different strains of the pathogen. A history of critical violations The Tri-County Health Department for Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas Counties has jurisdiction over Pho 75 and has noted repeated critical violations in recent years. Critical or major violations, according to the health department restaurant inspection website, are more likely than other violations to contribute to illness or injury. “Inspectors work with operators to make sure that critical/major violations are corrected whenever feasible before they leave the establishment. A re-inspection may be scheduled to verify compliance,” according to the health department website. During inspections on March 24 and 31, critical violations observed at Pho 75 included:
- Food Source — Wholesome, free of spoilage: A dented can of coconut juice was stored with wholesome cans in the dry storage cabinet. Corrected on-site;
- Food Source — Cross-contamination: A bag of raw sausage was stored above ready-to-eat lettuce and ready-to-eat cucumbers in the preparation area, double-door, reach-in refrigerator. Corrected on-site;
- Food Borne Illness Risk Personnel — An employee in the ware washing area was observed touching dirty dishes and proceeded to touch clean dishes without washing their hands in between. An employee on the cook line repeatedly failed to wash her hands before donning new pairs of gloves.
- Personnel Hygienic practices — An employee on the cook line failed to use their single-use gloves appropriately, as they repeatedly wore them for multiple tasks. An employee was observed touching his face with gloved hands and proceeded to touch ready-to-eat lettuce on the cook line.
- Food Borne Illness Risk Food Temperature Control — Cut lettuce was 48 degrees F in a plastic container on top of the cook line, chest freezer. Cooked beef balls were 56 degrees F in the basin of the preparation sink. Both should be held at 41 degrees F or lower;
- Sanitation Manual — A cutting board was manually washed in the basin of the preparation sink with soap and water only.
- Poisonous Or Toxic Items — A chemical spray bottle was unlabeled as to its contents below the wait station sink.
Also in March, inspectors noted improper thawing of frozen beef and chicken and numerous examples of dirty and broken equipment. “The interiors of the establishment’s chest freezers were heavily soiled with food debris. The interior of the storage area, reach-in freezer was heavily soiled with food debris. The interior of the ice machine was soiled with grime,” according to the inspection report posted on the Tri-County Health Department website. Many of the same problems noted in March were also cited during inspections in 2015, 2014 an 2013. Numerous examples of raw foods being held without refrigeration were noted repeatedly. Broken and dirty equipment was cited on almost every inspection report. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)