Nosestretcher alert: foodborne illness never happens to us: even if employees show up sick

Two separate cases of food poisoning at Indiana eateries in the past two weeks have sickened more than 100 people, and created one additional entry to the we’ve-always-done-things-this-way-and-no-one-has-ever-gotten-sick file.

The Journal Gazette cited Mindy Waldron, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health administrator, said customers fell ill with norovirus after eating at El Azteca Mexican restaurant at 535 E. State Blvd. on April 2.

That outbreak followed, but was not directly related to, another norovirus outbreak among those who dined at Cebolla’s Mexican Grill at 5930 W. Jefferson Blvd. in Time Corners on March 25.

The Journal Gazette reported the outbreak at Cebolla’s on March 31 after being alerted by a reader. The health department responded to requests for information, saying there were at least 20 patrons involved in the outbreak at that time.

The outbreak at El Azteca was not reported publicly until Waldron’s report Monday to the Allen County Board of Health, with the report noting the investigations had been concluded. Both outbreaks were traced to sick employees who reported for work in spite of their illness, according to Waldron.

Co-owner of El Azteca, Cristina Ray Durnell, said they took the issue seriously and did everything asked by the Department of Health.

“We’ve been here 38 years and never had anything like this happen,” Ray Durnell said. “Our customers and their safety are our No. 1 priority. That was two weeks ago and we have dealt with it.”

At Cebolla’s, health officials were able to identify 249 patrons who were potentially exposed. The health department received 66 complaints and 109 people had symptoms of the virus, Waldron said. The El Azteca outbreak involved 35 patrons – all of whom had symptoms – and 10 complaints were received.