Raleigh, N.C. — It was supposed to be a pleasant night out for Jeanne and Bob Bonds on April 17 when they went to eat at EVOO, a popular restaurant in Raleigh's Five Points area.
“All of a sudden I looked at him and he was sweating, and he was very pale and he said, ‘Oh, I feel really weak. I feel terrible,’” Jeanne Bonds recalled.
Bob Bonds was among 10 people who became suddenly ill at the restaurant at 2519 Fairview Road that evening. Bonds experienced stomach cramps, vomiting and dizziness.
Bob Bonds' symptoms started within 15 minutes after he started eating at the restaurant.
“That’s kind of scary to see something come on that quickly,” Jeanne Bonds said.
It is even scarier not knowing the cause, Jeanne Bonds said.
“We may never have conclusive lab data,” said Andre Pierce, Wake County's director of the environmental health and safety division.
Pierce says the massive salmonella outbreak in peanut products early this year and the recent H1N1 virus, lab results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and federal Food and Drug Administration are delayed.
Regardless of the outcome, Pierce says he's confident the problem was created at the restaurant.
“If you had some source issue with a product, you would expect to have calls around the state,” Pierce said. “We didn't have anything like that …So we believe there's something that was going on possibly at that facility that was the problem.
Pierce suspects a toxin or chemical caused the sickness, perhaps through cross contamination.
Incident reports from Wake County show all of the customers who became ill ate salads. A sample of tuna was sent for testing.
“This appears to be a classic case of histamine fish poisoning,” said North Carolina State University microbiologist Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus, who 5 on Your Side asked to review the reports.
"Scombrotoxin fish poisoning is probably the leading cause of seafood associated food-borne illness,” Jaykus said.
Scombroid resembles an allergic reaction and is often the result of temperature abuse with certain types of fish, including tuna, Jaykus said. It’s usually short lived and very unpleasant, but not deadly.
Bonds just wants reassurance; on two fronts.
“We want to know what it is. And we want to make sure that whatever it is that there's gonna be precautions taken so that it doesn't happen again.”
Pierce says his staff has visited the restaurant several times and spent about eight hours with the staff going over proper procedures.
EVOO was allowed to reopen the day after the scare after health officials determined the threat was over.
The owner of EVOO, Robert Duffy, told 5 On Your Side that no matter the final outcome of the tests, he has taken steps with his staff to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
5 On Your Side spoke with a number of food safety experts. They call this an opportunity to remind everyone who handles fish – restaurants, people who catch fish, and cooks – about the importance of keeping fish very cold. For more information contact the Scombrotoxin Prevention web site.