Rojo Rochester linked to salmonella outbreak

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published June 5, 2017

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Rojo Mexican Bistro in Rochester has temporarily closed its doors while Oakland County health inspectors investigate the spread of a rare form of salmonella.

“They voluntarily closed last week when there was another confirmed case that had reported eating at that restaurant,” said Dr. Pamela Hackert, chief of medical services at the Oakland County Health Division.

A total of 29 cases of salmonella saintpaul, a specific strain of salmonella, have been identified in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois — the first dating back to November 2016. Approximately 15 of those cases are from Oakland County, with the most recent case confirmed just last Friday, June 2, linked to Rojo in Rochester.

“The cases all match, genetically, to each other,” Hackert explained.

Salmonella is a bacteria that gets into the intestines and causes illness. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, which develop 12-72 hours after infection and last for four-seven days. While Hackert said most people recover without treatment, infants, seniors and those with impaired immune systems are at a higher risk of developing severe illness.

Despite an ongoing investigation, Hackert said, the Health Division is puzzled as to the exact source of the outbreak.

“Salmonella saintpaul is a rare strain that has had two food-associated outbreaks in the past decade — one was tied to jalepeno peppers and one was tied to cucumbers. It normally has tracked back to a food source and often the farm where it was grown; however, we have not been able to identify a specific food source in our investigation to date,” she said.

While there are many cases that don’t associate with a particular facility, Hackert said, several people with the illness reported eating at Rojo in Rochester. She declined to say how many of the county’s 15 confirmed cases were linked to Rojo’s Rochester location due to the ongoing investigation.

“Rojo’s other facilities (in Novi and Birmingham) have had no associated cases of it. There are also cases that did not have any association with that restaurant,” she said.

Hackert said Rojo in Rochester has been “incredibly cooperative” with the Health Division throughout the investigation — which included the testing of 51 different food samples and 60 environmental samples over several different visits.

“We have done very comprehensive environmental and food testing, and everything has come back negative, so it has been a challenge. … Despite the fact that we don’t have anything positive that is done on food samples or environmental samples they did close out of an abundance of caution, and we will be doing further testing and additional deep cleaning,” she said.

The restaurant managers couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

One of the challenges with the investigation, according to Hackert, is that the cases have been quite intermittent.

“It does make the investigation a little more challenging,” she said. “But we are continuing to look into this. This investigation is not at all over.”
Officers are investigating additional Oakland County restaurants that had been visited by more than one of the people who developed the illness, but Hackert declined to name the restaurants.

“We will continue our investigation until we find a common source that ties all of these cases together,” she said.

The ongoing investigation suggests that the salmonella is being spread through personal contact, Hackert added. Reptiles, birds and baby chicks also can carry and transmit the bacteria.

“Residents are reminded to wash their hands thoroughly before every meal and after using the restroom,” she said.

For more information, call the Oakland County Health Division's nurse on call at (800) 848-5533 or visit www.oakgov.com/health.

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