Th3 2013 Iguana Joe’s Salmonella Braenderup outbreak has been dubbed the “Father’s Day Salmonella Outbreak” by local health officials.  All of the salmonella victims became ill following consumption of food at the Iguana Joe’s located at 18319 West Lake Houston Parkway North in Atascocita, Texas on Father’s Day weekend in 2013.

National food safety law firm Ron Simon & Associates represents the vast majority of the victims in the outbreak.

The outbreak gained a great deal of notoriety in June and July of 2013 due to extensive local media coverage of several of the victims’ salmonella illnesses.  Included among the victims were several young children.

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Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services (HCPHES) closed the Iguana Joe’s.  The restaurant’s owner, Bonnie Ibarra, at first indicated that the location would remain closed.  HCPHES’ Michael Schaffer stated that the closure could be attributed to “continued critical violations that put the public’s health at risk.”

Nearly all of the victims attested to having eaten chips with either or both green and red salsa, and/or to have consumed entrees, many with chicken.  After consumption, the victims became symptomatic either later that evening or in the next few days, leaving many desperately ill with vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, fever, chills, abdominal and body aches, and dehydration with resultant headaches.

Many of the victims presented to medical professionals for testing, providing stool tests that confirmed the presence of the outbreak strain of Salmonella Braenderup.  Others presented to their local medical provider for treatment of symptoms consistent with salmonella food poisoning.  In all, at least three dozen individuals have been identified as probable victims of the Iguana Joe’s Salmonella Braenderup outbreak.

In addition to the medical treatment received by victims, county health officials from HCPHES began an investigation into the salmonella outbreak.  It was clear within days that the victims had all eaten food from a common location – Iguana Joe’s.

As soon as the source restaurant was identified, health officials ordered a thorough inspection of the restaurant.  The inspection started on June 22nd, (report available here) and yielded twenty nine (29) demerits, including critical violations with regard to the following safe food-handling procedures:

  • Proper cooling to cooked/prepared food – 5 demerits
  • Hot Hold (135F) – 5 demerits
  • Rapid Reheating (165F in 2hrs) – 5 demerits
  • Good hygienic practices – 4 demerits
  • Cross-contamination of raw/cooked foods/other – 4 demerits
  • Manager demonstration of knowledge/certified manager – 3 demerits
  • Food contact surface of equipment and utensils cleaned/sanitized/good repair – 3 demerits

These demerits represented only the critical violations (other, lesser violations were not included in the report).  Then, only two days later, a re-inspection resulted in 24 demerits, and uncovered these critical violations (report available here):

  • Proper cooling to cooked/prepared food – 10 demerits
  • Cold Hold (41F/45F) – 10 demerits
  • Proper Hot Hold (135F) – 10 demerits
  • Handwashing facilities  with soap and towels – 6 demerits
  • Manual/mechanical warewashing and sanitizing – 6 demerits
  • Food contact surface of equipment and utensils cleaned/sanitized/good repair – 6 demerits

During these inspections, a total of 62 pounds of food were destroyed by health investigators.

And these violations were not the first found at Iguana Joe’s.  The restaurant had been inspected as recently as May 13th (report available here) and 31st, (report available here) and in those inspections had been given nineteen (19) demerits for violations including the following:

  • failure to properly handle food;
  • failure to properly provide for hand-washing;
  • failure to have a knowledgeable manager on duty; and
  • failure to ensure proper sanitation of surfaces and utensils.

These repeat violations included faulty hand-washing practices and failure to keep equipment, surfaces, and utensils clean, sanitary, and in good repair.  For a complete list of inspection results, click here.

In spite of the many health violations found during multiple inspections of the restaurant, HCPHES has not yet declared (1) exactly how the food became contaminated, (2) whether the salmonella was limited to a single food, or (3) due to cross contamination, whether several foods served on Father’s Day weekend were poisoned.

The restaurant has since reopened.

According to national food poisoning lawyer Ron Simon, the importance of these inspections, and the violations uncovered, cannot be overlooked. “Most salmonella illnesses are the result of human or animal feces being introduced into the human food chain,” Simon explained, adding “the failure to practice good hygiene, to prevent cross contamination, and the failure to keep foods at proper temperatures all contribute to the possibility that food borne pathogens like salmonella will be passed on to innocent consumers.”

Ron Simon is currently working with Iguana Joe’s legal representatives to fully compensate his clients for the losses they have suffered.  He has provided to Iguana Joe’s insurance carrier copies of all the relevant inspections, medical records, and health department investigation reports (access to HCPHES records was denied in the first instance, and a special ruling by the Texas Attorney General was required to attain them).  “Iguana Joe’s and its insurer have all of the information they need to take care of the victims” says Simon, “and if they fail to do so, a jury will be asked to decide what is fair and reasonable.”