Foodborne Illness Kills Two People in Montana and Leads to a Wrongful-Death Lawsuit.
On April 30th, a 64 year old woman, Donna Ventura, died of a suspected foodborne illness. The county police officer reports that she was a regular at Dave’s Sushi restaurant. One week before, a 74 year old man named William Lewis also died of a foodborne illness. He was also a patron of Dave’s Sushi. The cause of death is currently under investigation, though morel mushrooms are suspected. While the two deaths have not been “directly” linked to the sushi restaurant, yet, at least three dozen other patrons of Dave’s Sushi have reported illnesses. The autopsy results will be available in 4-6 weeks, and toxicology results will be available in 2-6 months.
The restaurant has been closed for more than 2 weeks after receiving multiple complaints from more than 30 consumers falling ill after eating Dave’s Sushi. The FDA has focused its attention on morel mushrooms, sourced from China, as the source of the illnesses. Although it is not yet confirmed that these mushrooms were what caused the outbreak, this was an off-menu addition and only those who consumed the tainted product became ill – usually within 30 to 270 minutes post-consumption.
Morel Mushrooms Added to Special Rolls
The restaurant says that the mushrooms were not a regular item on the menu. They used those mushrooms in a special roll. The sicknesses were reported between March 31st to April 17th.
The Gallatin County Health Department performed an inspection on April 18, and they found numerous violations of standard health requirements. Poor temperature control for multiple foods, potential cross contamination, and although required, the lack of tags for shellfish were all identified during the inspection. The restaurant has hired a sanitarian to inspect the restaurant and to make recommendations moving forward.
Dave’s Sushi was Quickly Identified
The large number of reported illnesses, together with two deaths, allowed local health agencies to quickly and decisively determine the source restaurant. Food histories then quickly pointed to the product containing morel mushrooms. Officials also recognized a pattern for when the people got sick after consuming the sushi – consumers got sick within 30 minutes to 4.5 hours after eating the meal. The positive correlation between the illnesses and consumption of mushrooms was so strong, statistically, as to be conclusive even prior to identification of the pathogen or causal mechanism. That information should come later, according to health agency personnel.
The outbreak is considered to be an isolated case, especially as the morel mushrooms were not distributed to any other restaurant in Montana, nor have their been reports of other illnesses in other states. In addition, reports of new illnesses stopped as soon as the restaurant was closed.
Food Poisoning Always a Concern
There are many ways to avoid ingesting a foodborne pathogen. These include always washing your hands before, during, and after handling food, raw or cooked. The FDA also recommends washing your hands after touching, playing with, and/or being around animals, especially before touching your face or food. In addition, when handling raw meat, seafood, and eggs, always keep them separated from other food items, use different bowls and cutlery. Keep raw foods and ready-to-eat foods separated in the refrigerator and pantry. Always cook raw food to its safe internal temperature to be sure that the bacteria is killed. Keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below, and refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours post-cooking
If you or anyone you know is feeling sick or felt sick after being exposed to undercooked food, speak to your doctor. In severe cases, many food safety experts recommend a gastrointestinal panel to identify the pathogen and assist health agencies to prevent the further spread of dangerous pathogens like salmonella or e. coli – foodborne illness can be sourced from any food that is not handled properly.