Salmonella bacteria is one of the most common bacterial causes foodborne illness in the United States, causing about one million annual illnesses, including approximately 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths. In recent years, major outbreaks have been linked to products such as imported tuna, organic peanut butter, and Foster Farms raw chicken. These “product based” outbreaks are often geographically diffuse, with victims in many parts of the nation, and are only linked together after exhaustive trace-back investigations.

But many other outbreaks are linked to a single restaurant, such as the massive 2013 Firefly Tapas restaurant outbreak in Las Vegas, where cross contamination in the restaurant led to hundreds of patrons getting sick. These outbreaks are nearly always linked to poor sanitation and hygiene practices in a given restaurant, where salmonella is allowed to get into the food through improper food preparation or handling.

This is the case of the Iguana Joe’s at 18319 West Lake Houston Parkway, Humble, Texas 77346, which was at the center of a major outbreak of salmonella in June of 2013.

Ron Simon & Associates represents many of the Iguana Joe’s Father’s Day Salmonella victims, and filed a lawsuit on behalf of one of those victims today.  Ron Simon, who has represented thousands of salmonella victims, issued the following statement this morning:  “The difference between the Iguana Joe’s salmonella outbreak and many other salmonella outbreaks is that this one was actually anticipated and allowed to occur.”

On April 20, 2012, Iguana Joe’s was given a damming Foodborne Illness Risk evaluation by the Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services through its Environmental Public Health Division (EPHD). Iguana Joe’s received the worst score possible, meaning that the restaurant posed an “EXTREMELY HIGH RISK” of causing food borne illness, which mandated monthly agency inspections.

In May of 2013,  the restaurant underwent three EPHD inspections which repeatedly raised serious safety concerns including not having a manager on duty with the proper certification and knowledge of food safety.  Following these inspections Iguana Joe’s received a new Foodborne Illness Risk Assessment.  On this assessment it received another highly critical Risk Score indicating a HIGH RISK of causing foodborne illness.

Just 10 days after the warning, the restaurant was the source of a salmonella outbreak sickening dozens of patrons.

On June 21st, EPHD began its investigation into the outbreak.  The lead EPHD investigator on June 21st was Marcus Kufeji.  During his initial meeting at the restaurant, he noted that lettuce was being held in a hand sink.  The next day the EPHD performed a a full inspection of Iguana Joe’s.  Investigators found critical violations across the board, including day-old chicken stored above 41 degrees, violations of reheating practices for food, the storage of raw beef in a garbage can, the presence of raw chicken over cooked foods in refrigeration units, a failure to demonstrate proper food safety knowledge by management, and unclean utensils. During the inspection, inspector Steve Garcia also determined that 17 pounds of food needed to be destroyed due to adulteration.

The EPHD issued Manager Sandra Walker CITATION 42-0000-005181 as a result of the unsanitary conditions and ordered her to appear in court to face penalties.

Two days later, after destroying another 45 pounds of adulterated food, the EPHD issued owner Bonnie Ybarra CITATION 42-0000-00599 and also ordered her to appear in court to face penalties.

On June 25th, Iguana Joe’s received a CLOSURE NOTICE which ordered the restaurant to cease all food establishment operations immediately. Then, on June 29, the EPHD ordered that 4374.3 pounds of adulterated food be destroyed due to “possible contamination associated with recent foodborne illness reports.”

The Iguana Joe’s Father’s Day outbreak sickened more than 30 individuals, hospitalizing a number of them. But Iguana Joe’s was allowed to reopen after promising to clean things up and retrain its staff/management in proper food safety.

The outbreak should have been sufficient to put Victor and Bonnie Ybarra, along with Sandra Walker, on notice that food preparation practices at Iguana Joe’s required a new approach.

But on April 8, 2014 Iguana Joe’s received another Foodborne Illness Risk Assessment, this time with an off-the-chart Risk Score of 130, even higher than the two that preceded the salmonella outbreak.  The EPHD found that Iguana Joe’s again posed an EXTREMELY HIGH RISK of causing foodborne illness.  Only one month later, on May 8, 2014, health officials received another complaint of diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and headache after consumption of a beef and bean burrito at Iguana Joe’s.

Iguana Joe’s continues to violate proper food safety and sanitary practices and has received, three years in a row, damming Foodborne Illness Risk Assessments, including two EXTREMELY HIGH RISK scores and one HIGH RISK score.  It is hard to believe that this restaurant is allowed to remain open.

For more information on the Iguana Joe’s lawsuit and ongoing litigation, call the salmonella lawyers at Ron Simon & Associates at 713-335-4900 or toll free at 1-888-335-4901.  Talk to a Romaine Lettuce Ecoli Lawyer about filing a Romaine lettuce e coli lawsuit.