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Salmonella infection symptoms include abdominal cramps, fever and diarrhea, and symptoms typically show up within 12-72 hours of eating the contaminated food. ( image)

Salmonella outbreak sparks lawsuit

A West St. Paul restaurant is at the center of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 17 known individuals with salmonella enteritidis in mid-2021. Great Moon Buffet is a pan-Asian buffet restaurant with several locations in Minnesota. Attorneys Alicia Brenhaug and Raymond Trueblood-Konz, on behalf of Pritzker Hageman law firm, have filed a complaint in Dakota County District Court. The complaint stems from a July 2021 restaurant visit where an 11-year-old child ate at Great Moon Buffet and later suffered adverse health reactions.

The child was at the restaurant celebrating a birthday party when she ate some watermelon, among other foods, prepared by the restaurant. About two days later, the child felt ill enough that the child’s mother took her to the Children’s Hospital emergency room. A stool sample test showed the child was infected with salmonella. Later, the Minnesota Department of Health determined that the salmonellosis was part of the outbreak linked to the Great Moon Buffet’s West St. Paul restaurant.

According to the complaint, the child suffered “debilitating and painful gastrointestinal illnesses.” She was hospitalized for several days due to the salmonellosis. Six months later, the child still suffers ongoing symptoms.

The Minnesota Department of Health first received reports of salmonella in the 2021 outbreak in early July. All of the individuals had eaten at the Great Moon Buffet West St. Paul location before becoming ill. Many of those people had consumed watermelon. After 15 laboratory-confirmed cases reported eating at the restaurant, the department initiated another investigation.

On July 9, department staff noticed that a spray hose above the mop sink, which the restaurant had previously been warned about, had not been removed. Additionally, the department noted that the access to both handwashing sinks in the kitchen was blocked. The protein preparation hand sink had no disposable paper towels, and the wiping cloths in the protein preparation area were stored with no chlorine.

The department returned July 15-16 to focus on watermelon storage, as that appeared to be the source of the outbreak. Some of the watermelons were stored under the produce cutting table. But the shelf was located right next to the mop sink, which had no splash guard to ensure protection against cross-contamination, the department noted.

Great Moon agreed to stop serving watermelon on July 22, 2021. The department determined that the cause of the watermelon contamination came from raw meat by using the spray hose. It also found that the blocked handwashing sinks and the wiping cloths stored without chlorine contributed to the outbreak.

This is not the first time that the restaurant has had salmonella outbreaks. The restaurant had salmonella outbreaks in both 2018 and 2019. As a result of the 2018 investigation, the Minnesota Department of Health determined that a spray hose possibly contaminated the watermelon, which was stored under the produce prep table. Staff had been spraying the floor of the kitchen with a hose near unprotected raw items. Although the department instructed the restaurant to remove the hose, it allegedly did not. In both 2018 and 2019, the department also found that there was a lack of handwashing among staff, which has allegedly not improved.

In 2020, the restaurant was closed for dine-in service for part of the year due to the pandemic regulations.

The plaintiff — the child’s mother — demands a jury trial and seeks damages exceeding $50,000. She brings charges of strict liability, negligence, negligence per se, and breach of warranty.

“The Great Moon Buffet has repeatedly disregarded food safety measures that are in place to ensure the food they serve is clean and safe to consume,” said Brenhaug. “Simple steps could have been taken to stop cross-contamination of the watermelon and prevent customers from contracting dangerous pathogens like salmonella year after year.”

Salmonella infection symptoms include abdominal cramps, fever and diarrhea, and symptoms typically show up within 12-72 hours of eating the contaminated food. Most of the time, the illness will pass. However, it can become life-threatening if the bacteria enters the blood, especially for immunocompromised individuals, elderly, and children.

While salmonella poisoning is typically associated with chicken—the CDC estimates that one in every 25 packs of chicken has salmonella — salmonella can be spread through other meats, as well as fruit and vegetables. Most of the time, foodborne illness will fairly swiftly leave once the source of the outbreak is identified. However, that is not always the case. A restaurant in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, struggled with salmonella for 11 years due to repeated reintroduction through asymptomatic food workers.

Plaintiff’s lawyers want Great Moon to take responsibility both for the 11-year-old’s illness but also repeated outbreaks.

“Great Moon Buffet is sticking their head in the sand by claiming they don’t know anything about the illnesses caused by their restaurant,” said Trueblood-Konz. “They even go so far as to blame an 11-year-old victim for the salmonella infection they caused!”

Great Moon Buffet did not immediately return request for comment, although it has denied observations made by the Minnesota Department of Health in its response. On its Facebook page, the restaurant wrote on Dec. 27, 2021, “We are in the process of remodeling our kitchen and are hoping to back in early January. We will keep you updated on Facebook when we have an exact re-opening date. Thank you.”

Anyone who contracted salmonella after eating at the Great Moon Buffet is encouraged to contact Pritzker Hageman law firm: 612-338-0202.

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