No source determined for 200 sickened at Las Vegas restaurant

May 13, 2013 at 2:17 AM
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LAS VEGAS, May 13 (UPI) -- Two Las Vegas restaurants linked to 200 people sick -- many tourists from 20 states -- remain closed and officials say they haven't pinpointed a single source.

A report by the Southern Nevada Health District's Office of Epidemiology said 196 patrons and four employees of Firefly or the adjacent affiliated restaurant Dragonfly, both located on Paradise Road, reported being ill with a gastrointestinal illness involving diarrhea and/or vomiting.

Samples from the ill patrons and staff were analyzed for food-borne illness and health officials confirmed salmonella in several patrons and suspected it in many more.

Nevada health officials said they were first notified of the illnesses on April 26, and all patrons sickened ate at the restaurants during April 21-26, with illness onset dates occurring April 22-May 1.

The peak number of ill restaurant patrons was April 24, but because the incubation period for salmonella is usually 12-36 hours, this might suggest the restaurant patrons who ate at Firefly on April 22-23 had the highest risk of exposure to the pathogen.

Since the restaurant was close to the strip, the sickened patrons were from: Arizona, California,Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi,North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Washington as well as Canada and Britain.

Initially, health officials were suspicious of the raw unpasteurized egg-based aioli sauce served at Firefly, because many ill patrons had reported eating it, but epidemiologic analysis showed the aioli was not associated with the illness.

No single menu item appeared to be the likely source for the outbreak and no common factors or ingredients were identified among the statistically significant menu items, the report said.

During the inspections, observed violations that could have contributed to an outbreak of a food-borne disease included employees not washing their hands properly, employees using bare hands to dispense ready to eat foods, foods contaminated by debris-filled liquid, improper cooling practices of potentially hazardous foods, improper holding temperatures of numerous potentially hazardous foods, improper food storage that included raw animal products stored above ready to eat foods, improper storage of in-use utensils and inadequate cleaning and sanitizing of preparation surfaces, the report said.

Firefly owner John Simmons said in a written statement there were no plans to reopen Firefly at the current location, but the restaurant would move to a new building on the same street, Food Safety News reported.

"Firefly has been a proud member of southern Nevada for 10 years and we are optimistic that the combination of moving to this new location, that has a kitchen as large as the entire original Firefly restaurant, and the recommended retraining (of staff) on operations and procedures, will help us regain the confidence of the community," Simmons said in the statement.

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