Raw milk cheese? Maine bistro probed as possible source of foodborne illness

A popular Portland restaurant was investigated this month as a possible source of foodborne illness, the second such investigation of the restaurant in 18 months.

The Portland Press Herald reports health officials zeroed in on Petite Jacqueline after a food handler and a patron were stricken by the same bacterial illness on June 1, but they could not prove the restaurant’s food Petite-Jacqueline-Bistro-Burgerwas the cause – or that it wasn’t – because too much time had passed since the people who became sick were exposed.

Liz Koenigsberg, the restaurant’s part owner and general manager, said the restaurant is fully cooperating with state health inspectors and the Maine Center for Disease Control.

“It has not been concluded by any means that the source of illness was from Petite Jacqueline,” Koenigsberg said. “All of our food-handling practices are safe.”

The French bistro is a popular West End spot that has been nominated for a coveted James Beard Award.

Michael Russell, the manager of Portland’s Environmental Health and Safety program and the certified state health inspector who followed up on the illness complaint, said in an email Wednesday that the restaurant needed to change some of its food-handling practices.

“I observed some risk factors and made recommendations to correct (them),” he said.

Russell’s report said the restaurant should stop selling raw, aged cheese. State law prohibits eating establishments from selling raw, or unpasteurized, cheese unless it has been aged at a temperature of 35 degrees or higher for at least 60 days and is appropriately labeled.

Koenigsberg contends that the restaurant was selling appropriately aged cheese and is still working with health officials to clarify the rules. Russell said the eatery can resume selling the cheese as long as the “raw milk” labels are changed to “non-pasteurized.”

Russell also noted in his report that the restaurant uses the same color cutting boards for both meat and produce, which could result in accidental cross-contamination even though the boards were being sterilized. And he called on the restaurant to cover food items in the refrigerator to protect against contamination.