A Salmonella outbreak has been linked to Oscar’s Taco Bar in Breckenridge, Colorado. At least 16 people have been sickened. The restaurant was closed from July 15 through the 22, 2016, for inspection and cleaning.
The outbreak was solved because those sickened visited their doctors after they became ill. The doctors sent stool samples to the state laboratory for confirmation of diagnosis, because Salmonella is a reportable condition in Colorado.
Summit County inspection reports reveal problems at the restaurant. An inspection on July 15, 2016 focused on a complaint concerning possible illness. Officials found that a jug of milk was stored in the wine fridge that was 60°F and spoiled. A bag of spinach was in direct contact with raw beef in the walk in cooler. Raw fish was stored in a pan over cooked chicken, even though no direct cross contamination was observed. And at least two staff members were working while they were sick, which is a violation of food safety rules.
The preparation cooler was holding potentially hazardous food items at 46 to 48°F. The walk in cooler next to the grill was holding raw meats and uncooked foods at temperatures from 44 to 47°F. The main walk-in cooler was observed at 45 to 47°F. The thermometers used by kitchen staff were not properly calibrated. And the dish washer behind the bar area had no detectable level of sanitizer. The report reads, “per state requirement all staff is hereby restricted from all food handling, waiting tables, and bar tending until this restriction is lifted.”
The restaurant was ordered closed on July 15, 2016. That inspection report reads: “this inspection was conducted as a result of a possible Salmonella outbreak associated with the restaurant. The facility has been ordered by the Summit County Public Health to close until further notice due to existing conditions and public health concerns.”
A follow-up inspection on July 22, 2016 noted that all corrections had been made. That inspector filed another report on July 22 reading, “this inspection was conducted as an opening inspection requested by the owner. At this time due to limited staff, this establishment is approved for bar service and limited food service.” Some of the staff members were cleared to work.
But then, an inspection on July 25, 2016 was prompted by a customer complaint that staff was violating the restriction order for food handling, inspectors discussed those restrictions with the owner. Restricted employees were only allowed to handle dirty dishes, wash bathrooms, handle money, take out the garbage, or mop the floors. The report noted that “if any staff are observed violating this restriction that staff member may be restricted from the establishment completely or the facility may be closed due to public health concerns.”
The final inspection report available at this time was posted on August 3, 2016. Raw shell eggs were stored above ready to eat cabbage in the walk in cooler. Packaged raw beef in the walk-in cooler was observed in direct contact with a box of ready to eat tortillas, and raw chicken in the walk-in cooler was stored in direct contact with bell peppers, even though there was no evidence of cross-contamination. A staff drink without a lid was stored in the preparation sink. And cut tomatoes, spinach, carne asada, sour cream, and chorizo were stored in a preparation cooler across from the cook line at 45 to 50°F for more than four hours. Perishable food should never be above 40°F for more than two hours.
Summit Daily reports that a letter from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, sent to Amy Wineland, director of Summit County Public Health stated, “the only common exposure among the three confirmed illnesses is consuming food at Oscar’s restaurant during the week before becoming ill. Specifically, ill persons visited Oscar’s on July 1 and July 4.” The patient’s stool samples revealed a rare Salmonella strain, so state health officials were able to contact those sickened and trace the outbreak to Oscar’s in Breckenridge.
The symptoms of a Salmonella infection include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, chills, headache, muscle pains, and blood in the stool. Symptoms usually appear within six to seventy-two hours after exposure to the bacteria. Most people recover on their own within about a week, but some become so ill they must be hospitalized.