In 2000, the California Department of Health Services investigated the foodborne outbreak linked to Viva Mexico restaurant. Dr. Janet Mohle-Boetani, of the Division of Communicable Disease Control Branch, reported that:

“Between October 19 and 24, approximately 221 individuals became ill after eating at the Viva Mexico restaurant in Redwood City, CA.  One death occurred in a female who ate at Viva Mexico on October 19.  Symptoms included fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea (sometimes bloody) and dehydration.  Seventy persons were culture confirmed with Shigella Sonnei.  Of 70 culture-confirmed individuals, 19 ate at Viva Mexico on October 19, 45 on October 20, 6 on October 21, and 1 on October 22.  Analysis of data from a case-control study completed by San Mateo County Communicable Disease Control staff of all patients, completed by San Mateo County Communicable Disease Control staff of all patients, revealed a statistically significant association with salsa served at the table.”

Michael Gutierrez and Dr. Jeff Farrar, from the Department of Health Services, Food and Drug Branch, Emergency Response Team (FDB-ERT), further investigated the situation.  Their summaries of the incident are as follows:

“An environmental assessment was conducted by sanitarians with San Mateo County Environmental Health on October 24.  Due to multiple violations of the California Uniform Retail Food Facility Law, the restaurant was closed by San Mateo County sanitarians on October 24, 2000.”

Additionally, the environmental assessment made by the county health made the following observations:

–       no soap in the women’s restroom;

–       no sanitizer on the premises;

–       on site thermometer was reading temperatures 10°F off;

–       improper cooling of foods – meat, poultry, and beans – with core temperatures from 50-70°F after 18 hours of cooling;

–       cross contamination of foods – meat residue on knives used to cut produce.

Upon such findings, the department recommended several changes to correct the shortcomings: The restaurant should provide a comprehensive food safety training to all employees before re-opening.  This training should enforce:

a)     Frequent, thorough hand washing;

b)    Implement measures to prevent cross contamination and re-use of left over food;

c)     Thoroughly wash all new produce under running water.

Increase inspection frequency by the county Environmental Health Department to assure immediate and continued adherence to all relevant regulations.

See: Environmental Investigation of a Shigella Sonnei Outbreak.