Ixtapa Restaurant Reopens After Washington E. coli Outbreak

The Ixtapa Mexican restaurant in Lake Stevens, Washington, which has been linked to the <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/e_coli_escherichia_coli">E. coli outbreak that sickened 19 people in Snohomish County, received approval to reopen yesterday.  The restaurant voluntarily closed to allow health department investigators time to determine the source of the contamination as well as for the restaurant to undergo intense disinfection.

Most of the people sickened in this outbreak ate at the Ixtapa restaurant and 17 of the 19 confirmed cases have been linked to Ixtapa by the Snohomish Health District, according to agency spokeswoman Suzanne Pate.  The first of the E. coli cases was reported last week.  Ixtapa received approval Monday to reopen Wednesday after the restaurant was fully disinfected and all open containers of food there were disposed.  In a news release, the Snohomish Health District said the restaurant planned to reopen as soon as shipments of menu ingredients arrive.  Meanwhile, the source of the outbreak remains unknown and investigators continue to interview all of those people who became ill to determine if any of them ate any common dishes or dishes with common ingredients.  Narrowing the investigation is a complicated task, Pate said, because “the menu is complex and many ingredients appear in a variety of dishes.”

The illnesses began being reported between October 7 and 17, with most sickened people reportedly eating at Ixtapa between October 2 and 13.  Two of those who fell ill were hospitalized and three people did not eat at the restaurant.  Health workers are reviewing those three cases to find a pattern among them. “Sometimes links emerge later,” Pate said. “Or there’s a possibility they might be three of the usual cases we see a year.”  Snohomish County sees between 16 and 20 reported cases of E. coli in any given year, “so this is a significant number,” Pate said of the confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, there have been a number of very recent E. coli contamination outbreaks, including one involving California lettuce that affected numerous people in a variety of states, beef in Vermont linked to a slaughtering plant, and a massive outbreak emerging out of Canada linked to a Harvey’s restaurant and in which nearly 200 people have fallen ill.

Pate said E. coli is a fecal-oral form of contamination.  It could be picked up if someone “patted a sheep and ate cotton candy,” for example, or changed a diaper, then prepared food without washing hands first, she added.  E. coli are a group of bacteria found in animal intestines and feces.  Some strains are necessary for digestion, while others can be deadly, such as the O157:H7 strain that is generally found to be the culprit in E. coli-related food-borne illness outbreaks and is to blame in this outbreak.  O157:H7 is among those E. coli that may cause serious disease—such as fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, and deadly septicemia—and are in a group called Verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) that are linked to food poisoning.  Left untreated, E. coli toxicity can result in kidney damage and failure and death.

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