On March 6, 2013 environmental health inspectors at Public Health Seattle & King County (PHSKC) were sent to Ambassel Restaurant & Bar located at 1224 E. Jefferson Street in Seattle due to a possible foodborne illness outbreak. Epidemiologists at PHSKC and the Washington State Department of Health (WDOH) had identified two patients infected with an indistinguishable genetic strain of E. coli O157:H7, designated by PulseNet pattern identification codes, EHX01.0560 and EXHA26.0015.” Both patients were vegetarians and had no exposures in common other than eating at Ambassel in the week before symptom onset. Patient 1, Alison Cardinal, ate at Ambassel on February 8. Patient 2, Sarah Schacht, ate at Ambassel on February 15. (A third patient, Jeri Bruegger, would also be diagnosed with the same strain of E. coli O157. Ms. Bruegger ate at Ambassel on February 17.)
Numerous food safety issues were identified at the March 6 inspection, many of them considered to be “red violations,” i.e. improper practices or procedures identified as the most prevalent contributing factors of foodborne illness or injury. PHSKC inspector, Perry Lee, observed inadequate hand washing practices by food workers, bare hand contact with ready-to eat foods, dirty contact food surfaces and failure to use thermometers to evaluate proper temperature of potentially hazardous foods. In total 52 violations totaling 93 points were noted. Health department officials closed Ambassel on March 6 due to the outbreak investigation and numerous improper food handling practices cited. Various food samples and environmental swabs of surfaces and equipment were obtained and tested for E. coli O157 at the WDOH Public Health Laboratory. None were positive for E. coli O157. Stool specimens were also collected from Tsedalu Kebede, the owner and reportedly the only food handler at Ambassel. These too were negative. However, public health investigators identified numerous opportunities for cross-contamination of ready-to-eat foods with uncooked meat or meat juices. This finding was shared with Ms. Kebede at a meeting with health officials on March 20. Follow up inspections conducted on March 21, April 3, and April 12 were satisfactory.
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