Editor's Note: The following is The Big Spoon, an opinion column on San Antonio's food and drink scene.
This Labor Day weekend, more than 300 San Antonians were afflicted by a foodborne illness, likely Salmonella, from dining out at Pasha Mediterranean Grill.
The 10-year-old restaurant has amassed fans from across the city. It has locations in Selma, The Vineyard as well as offshoots in Incarnate Word and on Culebra Road known as Pasha Express, along with Baklovah Bakery.
And much like the other 98 percent time they’ve been open, now is probably a safe time to eat at Pasha.
But let’s get back to Labor Day weekend. In an interview, epidemiologist Anita Kurian said the city has investigated 389 cases of foodborne illness stemming from Pasha, with 14 diners hospitalized and 37 lab-confirmed signs pointing to Salmonella.
This was the largest outbreak since the ’90s when Metro Health investigated 250 calls. This time around, an unnamed physician spotted the similarities between patients and called the organization to flag the illness. Calls to Metro Health streamed in on September 2, sanitarians showed up at the restaurant the next day and closed it through September 4. A restaurant inspection report points to refrigeration as the likely culprit for the outbreak, though it’s unclear where exactly the bacteria came from. The Centers for Disease Control reports that Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths per year in the United States. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and/or abdominal cramps anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after the infection. Most people don’t require treatment – though they probably need a lot of Pedialyte. But others need hospitalization.
For the general public, the outbreak at Pasha served to underscore several things. For some, it was loyalty to a restaurant they’ve dined at for the past 10 years. For others, it’s a reason they won’t try it. And for a small but vocal group, it perpetuates nasty stereotypes and racial bias in comment sections that we’ll explore in later Big Spoon columns.
For Metro Health, an outbreak of this magnitude means boots on ground at the restaurant for the days following the outbreak to make sure food handling and cooking are spotless. For the epidemiologists on staff, it means responding to the onslaught of calls, getting more information on signs and symptoms, and learning the food history of the case to determine exposure. They normally field 190 calls, out of which only one or two usually reveal foodborne illnesses.
“Every good meal starts with food safety,” Kurian says.
At home, that means separating cooked and uncooked food such as meat, poultry, eggs and milk. Cooking food appropriately, and making sure meat and eggs are cooked thoroughly.
When dining out, Kurian wants eaters to pick up the phone.
“If you observe unhygienic practices, don’t hesitate to call us. We want to know the problem at the onset.”
What the Pasha outbreak highlights is how quickly a situation can get out of hand, and why reporting any issues to Metro Health is critical. It happens to be National Food Safety Month, so visit cdc.gov/foodsafety
for ways to identify symptoms. See something and want to say something? Call Metro Health San Antonio at (210) 207-8780 to report any slime in the ice machine.
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