Seattle’s popular Tamarind Tree Vietnamese restaurant plans by the end of 2023 to move from its location of the past 20 years in the Little Saigon district of the International District to a more uptown building on Capitol Hill.

What Tam Nguyen, owner of Tamarind Tree, did not plan on was being at the center of a public health investigation over an outbreak of Shigellosis associated with symptoms reported including diarrhea, cramps, nausea, fever, chills, and vomiting.

Public Health of Seattle and King County reported that as of Jan. 27, 17 people from seven separate meal parties reported becoming ill after eating food from the Tamarind Tree Restaurant. These 17 people ate at this restaurant on January 15, 16, and 17, 2023. None of the restaurant staff have reported illnesses.. 

Environmental Health Investigators from Public Health visited the restaurant on January 24. They observed improper food handling practices, including blocked access to handwashing facilities, improper storage of wiping cloths, risk of cross-contamination, and lack of maintenance, cleaning, and sanitizing of food equipment and physical facilities. 

Environmental Health investigators had done a routine inspection on Jan. 18. They observed several risk factors that could contribute to foodborne outbreaks, including bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods.

Investigators closed the restaurant during their visit on Jan. 24. The restaurant was required to complete a thorough cleaning and disinfection. 

Investigators reviewed with restaurant management the requirement that ill staff is not allowed to work until they are symptom-free for at least 48 hours. They also provided education about preventing the spread of gastrointestinal illness — including proper handwashing and preventing bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods. 

Five of the seventeen people who became ill tested positive for Shigella. Three of those five have confirmatory testing indicating Shigella sonnei, a species of Shigella. Symptoms among those who did not get tested are suggestive of a Shigella infection. 

 About Shigellosis

  • Shigellosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called Shigella.
  • Most who are infected with Shigella develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Some people may have no symptoms.
  • Illness from Shigella usually resolves in 5 to 7 days but recovered individuals may still spread the bacteria. 
  • Ill people with suspected shigellosis should not work in food handling, patient care, or childcare settings, and ill children with suspected shigellosis should not attend daycare or school until they have seen a healthcare provider and been tested for Shigella infection, even if their illness is mild. Persons with Shigella infection who work in or attend these sensitive settings must be cleared by Public Health before returning.

General advice for reducing the risk of contracting Shigella:

  1. Wash hands thoroughly with soap after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and before preparing any food or eating.
  2. Wait at least 24 hours after the last episode of vomiting and or diarrhea before preparing any food for others.
  3. Wash hands, cutting boards, and counters used for food preparation immediately after use to avoid cross-contaminating other foods.
  4. Avoid sexual activity with those who have diarrhea or who recently (within the past several weeks) recovered from shigellosis.

It is not known if the outbreak might delay Tamarind Tree’s move to the R Building at 619 E. Pine, planned for late 2023. Nguyen is known for overcoming obstacles. He reached Seatle in 1980 from Saigon with a layover at a Malaysian refugee camp.

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