In Garrison Keillor’s fictional hometown, Lake Wobegone, all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average. In Spartanburg, S.C. it’s the restaurants that are all above average including the one that is the source of an E.coli outbreak that has sickened 11 people and hospitalized two. Because all 452 restaurants in Spartanburg have a letter grade of A from the South Carolina Department of Health an Environmental Control’s (SCDHEC) restaurant rating system.
Earlier this week, when Food Poisoning Bulletin asked how residents in Spartanburg could make safe choices without knowing the name of the restaurant at the source of the outbreak, a SDHEC spokesman said there was not an ongoing threat and they would be OK eating at any of the area restaurants that had a good letter grade.
A review of the restaurant ratings posted online, showed that the lowest score any Spartanburg restaurant received was an 88, which, under the grading system , is an A.
On May 11, SCDHEC issued a health advisory to announce that they were investigating an outbreak of E.coli 0157:H7 infections linked to food served at a “Spartanburg-area Mexican restaurant during the last week of April, 2012.” Two of the 11 people sickened have been hospitalized with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS,) a serious, sometimes life-threatening condition that develops, often in young children, after an E. coli infection and can cause kidney failure, seizures, stroke and coma.
Despite pressure for transparency from members of the media, food safety advocates, and Mexican restaurant owners in Spartanburg, SCDHEC has said it did not release the name of the restaurant because it believes there is not an ongoing threat and it is not their policy to disclose the names of restaurants linked to foodborne illness outbreaks.
This situation is reminiscent of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) decision earlier this year to withhold the name of a Mexican-style fast food restaurant at the heart of a Salmonella outbreak. That chain turned out to be Taco Bell.