5 On Your Side

Officials: Health risk over at Raleigh restaurant

Posted April 22, 2009 5:56 p.m. EDT
Updated April 23, 2009 7:48 p.m. EDT

— Wake County health officials were investigating what sickened patrons and employees at EVOO, a popular restaurant in the Five Points area, last Friday.

Nine patrons and a chef became suddenly ill at the restaurant at 2519 Fairview Road on the evening of April 17. They experienced stomach cramps, vomiting and dizziness.

Emergency medical workers transported at least seven people, including some from the restaurant and two from a nearby home who had eaten at EVOO, to local hospitals.

A report from health inspectors said that the cook was the first to become sick and went home around 6:30 p.m.

Bob and Jeanne Bonds went to EVOO on Friday and ordered appetizers and entrees. Shortly after starting his entree, Bob Bonds said he became violently ill with stomach cramps and vomiting.

“Everyone has been sick from eating something they shouldn't have at some point in their life, but this struck with such intensity and such quickness, that I knew it was something that I had never experienced before,” Bob Bonds said.

“I looked at him. We had been chatting, and he was starting to sweat heavily. He said he was very dizzy,” Jeanne Bonds said.

Jeanne Bonds said she felt fine but soon realized other people were also starting to get sick.

“I was really on high adrenaline, just trying to take care of everybody,” she said.

Although health officials haven't determined what caused the illness, they believe it was a case cross-contamination and are confident that it is no longer a public health threat, so said Andre Pierce, Wake County's director of the environmental health and safety division.

Health inspectors checked out EVOO Saturday and allowed the restaurant to re-open.

"We are sure that a health risk has passed," Pierce said. "Anytime we have an outbreak and we do an investigation (and) we are sure, the restaurant is allowed to continue to operating. So it (EVOO) is operating under our authority."

Robert Duffy, a co-owner of EVOO, said inspectors told him that the source of the illness could have been brought in by a third-party vendor.

Duffy said that all of the customers who became ill ate salads and that health inspectors sent samples of tuna from the restaurant to the federal Food and Drug Administration for testing. He said that the chef who became ill, though, didn't eat.

The inspectors' report from Saturday showed that all refrigerated items had been thrown out from the restaurant.

Health officials said that the people in this case became sick unusually fast. In cases of food poisoning, symptoms usually show up four to six hours after eating. In this incident, the victims became ill almost immediately.

Pierce said that generally, that kind of illness is caused by a live virus or chemical toxin that cannot be avoided by certain cooking techniques. Outside experts said that a possible contaminant could have been a toxic called histamine, which develops when fish stays warm for too long. Histamine can develop anytime from when fish is caught to when it's served in a restaurant.

Duffy said that EVOO is cooperating fully to make sure that this "never occurs again."

Pierce sad that it will take about a week to get back test results and determine the exact cause of the illness.

"I'm very curious as to what caused this, and I want the public to know what caused it," Jeanne Bonds said.

EVOO posts a 92.5 sanitation grade and has received A grades for more than five consecutive years.