The North Reading Health Department and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health report Kitty’s Restaurant & Lounge is closed until further notice because of a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 19 people, including some of the restaurant’s employees.

It is the second time since July 5 that the restaurant has closed because of the Salmonella infections, according to a July 13 update from public health officials.

North Reading officials began investigating the illnesses on July 3. The state health department had received complaints on June 23 about Kitty’s Restaurant & Lounge at 123 Main St. in North Reading. Initially health officials identified the restaurant’s antipasto salad as the source of the Salmonella.

“The Health Department conducted an initial investigation that evening, working with the restaurant owners in an attempt to determine how the food was contaminated. The investigation included determining the source of the food, how the food was prepared, who prepared it, how it was served and to whom it was served,” North Reading officials reported.

After receiving additional information regarding potential illnesses associated with June 25 visits to the restaurant, the Board of Health recommended that Kitty’s management close up shop on July 5 to conduct a full cleaning and sanitization of the building.

The restaurant was thought to have complied and it reopened on July 6.

“The Health Department, working with the State Division of Epidemiology and Immunization, also provided information and guidance to Kitty’s management to test 46 employees who may have been working during the outbreak,” according to the outbreak alert from North Reading officials.

All tested employees are to be cleared by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health before returning to work.

As the investigation continued, the NRHD reviewed additional complaints about the restaurant on July 9. In response, the North Reading Health Department conducted an onsite inspection of Kitty’s.

According to the NRHD, the inspection revealed food safety and sanitation concerns including issues of unsanitary conditions, cross contamination and time and temperature abuse.

“It also indicated that the restaurant had not complied with the Health Department’s original orders of July 5, and several employees prohibited from working from the salmonella incident from June 23-25 were working on site and preparing food,” according to the update from local officials.

Those employees had not been cleared to return to work by either the state or local health departments. Also, in addition to the antipasto salad, the restaurant’s house salad dressing was identified as a potential source of the Salmonella. A sample was collected for testing.

“In the interest of protecting the public health due to the potential of a secondary outbreak, and in response to the establishment’s failure to comply with the orders of the North Reading Health Department, on July 9 the establishment was ordered closed until further notice,” the outbreak update says.

The restaurant owners were ordered to clean and sanitize the facilities. All remaining staff are required to be tested and cleared prior to returning to work.

On Friday, representatives from the local and state health departments met with Kitty’s management and employees to re-initiate salmonella testing.

“This testing has been implemented to protect the public and employees of the establishment by ensuring that employees return to work at the establishment only after being confirmed to be free of salmonella,” according to the update.

Testing protocols stipulate that two negative test results at least 24 hours apart are needed to determine whether an individual is free of salmonella. Consequently, health officials say the earliest that any employee could likely be determined to be free of Salmonella is July 19 or 20.

In order for Kitty’s to re-open, it must be in compliance with state and local health laws, regulations, and orders. It also must show it has that sufficient staffing and food supplies to operate.

As a precautionary measure, the North Reading Health Department recommends anyone who ate antipasto salad or house dressing, purchased takeout antipasto or salad or house dressing, purchased packaged house salad dressing, or took home leftovers from the Kitty’s establishment after June 1 to not consume the items.

Anyone who has an unopened bottle of house salad dressing in their home, is asked to contact the North Reading Health Department. The department may want to test the dressing as a precautionary measure while the investigation continues

Consumers with questions can contact the North Reading Health Department for more information at 978-357-5242.

Advice to consumers
Anyone who ate food from the restaurant and became ill should contact their doctors and tell them about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria. Specific laboratory tests are required to diagnose Salmonella infections.

Most victims develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria. Salmonella symptoms usually last four to seven days, and most otherwise health adults recover without treatment. Antibiotics can be used to treat infections from the Salmonella bacteria.

In some cases, diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs hospital care. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other parts of the body. In these cases, Salmonella can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.

The elderly, young children and those with impaired immune systems, including cancer and transplant patients, are more likely to develop severe infections and other complications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Salmonella causes 1 million illnesses in the United States each year.

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