A Northern Colorado restaurant at the center of a local Salmonella outbreak will reopen today after being closed for almost three weeks.

La Luz Mexican Grill, located in Old Town Fort Collins, closed “voluntarily” on Aug. 21 after Colorado’s Larimer County Department of Health and Environment (LCDHE) linked the popular restaurant to the outbreak.

The LCDHE gave the Old Towe La Luz permission to reopen this past Thursday, but the restaurant opted to remain closed over the weekend. Health inspectors were at the restaurant first thing Sept. 6, giving it a 70-minute follow-up inspection.

After the closure extended into three weeks, inspectors found on Sept. 6 that the restaurant still had two major violations, leaving it with a mediocre score of 70 points out of 100. It lost 10 points for not being free of spoilage and adulteration, and another 20 points for cross-contamination from equipment involving animal foods stored below cooked and ready to eat foods.

Meanwhile, LCDHE also reported the Salmonella outbreak it first reported on Aug. 21 has grown from that initial six cases to 29 confirmed cases of Salmonella and all involved La Luz customers.

Several of the people with confirmed infections have been hospitalized.

State health officials are now assisting in the investigation, which has yet to determine the exact source of the pathogen.

La Luz was named as a defendant on Aug. 31 in Colorado District Court lawsuit by a Fort Collins couple who, along with their 5-year old son, are victims of the Salmonella outbreak.

Old Town La Luz owner Peter Shultz posted an apology to customers late last week. After leaving its phones to go unanswered during the weekend, La Luz did begin taking calls on Monday, promising customers the restaurant will reopen today.

La Luz Mexican Grill is at 200 Walnut St. in Fort Collins, CO. It is one of three restaurants in the area flying the La Luz flag. The other two are located at 140 E. Broadwalk Drive in Fort Collins and 1518 Madison Ave. in nearby Loveland, CO. Those restaurants are under separate ownership and are not implicated in the salmonella outbreak.

The Old Town La Luz has had troubles with restaurant inspections in the past couple of years. In eight inspections since January 2017, the best rating it has received was a “fair.” Its other scores were one “unacceptable” and six inspections that ended with “not rated.”

After it closed, LCDHE said it found the restaurant was concerned with “the safety of its customers and the integrity of its food supply and wants to prevent any further illness as best they can.”

Before the Sept. 6 inspection, restaurant inspectors spent about more than two hours at La Luz doing a follow-up visit on Aug. 17. It was found “out of compliance” for cooling, cold holding, permitting employees to eat, smoke, or drink while on duty, maintenance of cutting boards and utensils, re-using service articles, lighting, missing hand soap, hand towels or dryer, and for evidence of insects on the premises.

Salmonella is bacteria that can cause infections affecting the intestinal tract, urinary tract, bloodstream or other body tissues. Salmonella is often spread to people through consumption of contaminated food. The bacteria can be found in many foods including raw meats, eggs and fresh produce. Salmonella can be spread when people who are sick who handle food. Some people who are infected are asymptomatic and can spread the infection unknowingly.

Symptoms may include, diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and bloody stool. Symptoms typically appear 6-72 hours after eating contaminated food and will usually last for 4 to 7 days. In severe cases, the symptoms may last longer or require hospitalization.

Salmonella is responsible for about 1 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths each year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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