Basalt restaurant opens after Salmonella infection

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

A Basalt restaurant has reopened after voluntarily closing and working with environmental health officials when six people were infected with salmonella after dining there, according to the Eagle County Public Health and Environment Department.

El Korita at Willits Town Center closed for five days Jan. 21, according to Public Health Director Jennifer Ludwig. She said the restaurant owner and staff were extremely cooperative and sought the department’s guidance.

“They thoroughly disinfected the kitchen and all food contact surfaces and equipment; all employees attended food handler safety training, a few employees additionally completed an online course; and all employees were interviewed and tested by public health and environment team,” Ludwig said in an email. “They reopened on Tuesday, January 26.”

El Korita owner Beto Gamboa expressed frustration because he wants to know the cause of the salmonella. He said he has been in business for 20 years and practiced safe preparation and handling of food. There has never been a previous problem, he said.

The closure cost him about $50,000, Gamboa said. He is waiting word on the problem. Ludwig said the investigation might never determine how the illness was caused.

The restaurant wasn’t forced to close by Eagle County or the Colorado Public Health Department, Ludwig said, and no clearance was needed to reopen.

Ludwig said an investigation is ongoing to determine if food preparation, food handling or both were the cause of the salmonella or if the problem was with the food source.

“No other salmonella cases matching this serotype have been reported,” Ludwig said. No workers at El Korita tested positive for the illness.

The six diners became ill between Jan. 10 and 13. One case was severe enough that the person was hospitalized, Ludwig said. All the people have recovered. No new cases have been reported since Jan. 13.

She was uncertain how her department learned of the illnesses.

“We receive notification from hospitals, labs and healthcare providers on many different conditions,” Ludwig said. “We also get notice from a state-wide, Web-based reporting tool. I am unsure as to which entity first reported or how (phone, fax, email, Web tool).”

Most persons infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. The illness lasts four to seven days and most persons recover without treatment, the CDC said. There are an estimated 1.2 million cases annually.

The most common causes, according to the CDC, are under-cooked meat, poultry and eggs, or hands, kitchen work surfaces and utensils that aren’t thoroughly cleaned. Food sources such as fruits and vegetables also can be infected if handlers have salmonella at the time of harvest.