Salmonella outbreak puts spotlight on NJ restaurant

January 7, 2010 2:41:00 PM PST
Health officials have confirmed a salmonella outbreak at a popular Newark restaurant. Dozens of people got sick and several even had to be hospitalized. Wreaths and red ribbons still adorn the streets of Newark as heart-warming signs of a holiday season come and gone. They also evoke holiday memories that make some people sick to their stomachs - literally.

"We had a Christmas party there, and I got a headache around 10:30," Ramona Serra said. "And I didn't feel good the next day."

Serra is among 13 people who got sick at their company Christmas party at the Iberia Peninsula Restaurant at 63 Ferry Street in Newark. Three of them were hospitalized.

"They had a stomach pains, belly ache pains, their whole body was aching them," Serra said. "They were really bad."

The Newark Department of Health is now investigating parties held at Iberia on six different days in December. There have been 35 total complaints. Five people have been confirmed with salmonella poisoning.

"Right now, we haven't determined anything," said Marsha McGowan, of the Newark Department of Health. "In terms of the sources, what we do have is a list of the foods that were served."

Seven different homemade sauces have been sent to the state lab for testing. And all of the restaurant employees are also being tested, to find out if any of them are possible carriers of the bacteria. That's because, upon the initial inspection, health inspectors found temperature and hand washing violations.

"This is an isolated incident, and it's under investigation," Ibera general manager George Loueira said. "We want to have everybody continue to patronize the business."

Since the investigation started, health inspectors have been placed in the kitchen, checking the food preparation and hand washing.

That investigation didn't begin until Tuesday, December 28, two days after Serra and her co-workers got sick. That's because that Monday was a city furlough day.

"The furloughs have no affect on public health in the sense that we have a relationship with other towns around us to give us manpower and support," Newark Mayor Cory Booker said.

The restaurant remains open. And regular customers have no complaints.

"For me, it's good," Manuel Amorim said. "I have no problems."

But the problems for Iberia aren't over yet. The tests results to determine the source of the salmonella outbreak will take another three to five days.