On February 13, 2006 the Benton County Health Unit (BCHU) received a report that a physician had treated four area residents for gastroenteritis. All four reported eating at the Sushi King Restaurant in Bentonville, Arkansas prior to symptom onset. Stool samples were taken for laboratory testing, and an alert was sent to area health care providers and clinics advising them of a possible foodborne illness outbreak in the community.
BCHU environmental health specialists conducted an on-site outbreak investigation at Sushi King. The restaurant owner agreed to close the restaurant until the source was identified and the outbreak stopped. Before food service was halted, investigators observed unsafe food handling practices and temperature abuse at the facility. Other errors noted during the February inspections included improper sanitation, improper storage, and inadequate hand washing.
By February 17, laboratory results had confirmed Salmonella Typhimurium in patients, and news of the outbreak was broadcast on local television. The Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services (ADHHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) joined the investigation.
In a case-control study, BCHU investigators found that consumption of Sushi King California rolls was statistically associated with illness. When specific ingredients of the crab roll were evaluated, only the imitation crab mix ingredient was statistically associated with illness.
Eight of the 9 Sushi King employees submitted stool specimens for laboratory analysis; 5 specimens tested positive for Salmonella. The employees were not allowed to return to work until they had submitted two stool samples that tested negative for Salmonella. Finally, on March 10 the restaurant received a clean inspection report and was allowed to reopen.
BCHU, ADHHS, and CDC investigators ultimately identified 63 confirmed cases and 98 probable cases of Salmonella epidemiologically linked to Sushi King. At least 5 restaurant patrons were hospitalized.
Marler Clark resolved 15 claims against Sushi King.