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200 sickened after dining at Vegas restaurant

By Michelle Rindels

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:58 a.m. HST, May 11, 2013

LAS VEGAS » A new report shows 200 people who dined at one of Las Vegas' most popular restaurants about a block off the Strip have reported food poisoning symptoms, making it the largest outbreak southern Nevada health officials have seen in at least a decade.

Sick patrons who dined at Firefly, a tapas restaurant on Paradise Road in late April hailed from 20 different states and two foreign countries, according to a report released Friday by the Southern Nevada Health District. There are likely many more cases that have gone unreported.

"Usually we think of people who are identified as just the tip of the iceberg," said Linh Nguyen, an epidemiologist with the health district and lead investigator on the case.

Firefly is one of Las Vegas' highest-rated restaurants on the review site Yelp.com, garnering a 4 ½ star rating on a five-star scale out of more than 1,300 reviews. Patrons rave about bacon-wrapped dates and signature sangria.

The restaurant has been closed since April 26, when health district officials received reports of gastrointestinal illness from eight separate groups of people who had dined at Firefly between April 21 and 24. Inspectors hit the restaurant with 44 demerits, including food stored at improper temperatures and employees handling food without gloves.

Firefly owner John Simmons said in a statement that he hopes to reopen by the end of the month at a different site near the old restaurant. He added that he's hired a food safety consultant and is working to implement the district's recommendations to regain the community's confidence.

Already, a Las Vegas couple has filed a lawsuit against Firefly. Representatives of Seattle law firm Marler Clark, which specializes in foodborne illness cases, said today that a total of 76 people have contacted them hoping to be included in the suit.

In salmonella cases where a person has a few days of severe illness but fully recovers, a jury might award $5,000 or $10,000, lawyer Bill Marler said. That number can go up if the person spent time in the hospital, missed work, or had lasting complications linked to the illness.

A key element of the case will be determining whether the restaurant's actions caused the outbreak, Marler said.

But two weeks after shutting down the restaurant and collecting food samples that ranged from macaroni and cheese to mussel sauce, investigators say they haven't pinpointed a menu item or ingredient that's the likely culprit.

Investigators initially zeroed in on an egg-based aioli sauce, but have since ruled that out. Some grated hard cheeses also appeared to be associated with the illness, although many of the menu items consumed by the patrons didn't contain the cheese.

Inspectors are considering employee hygiene practices, and tracing back the sources of some foods served raw. If the salmonella originated further back in the supply chain, sickness may be showing up elsewhere in the country.

Nguyen said the restaurant's popularity and vast menu may have contributed to the spread of salmonella.

"Sometimes when they're very busy ... employees might take shortcuts," she said.

Two other Firefly locations in the Las Vegas area remain open.

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Mei mei wrote:
bummer! i really liked this place, good times and good memories...
on May 10,2013 | 11:12AM
jess wrote:
I know! I hope they get their food safety issues solved and aren't hurt too bad by the bad press. Running a restaurant can be hard... it only takes one employee's negligence to have this kind of outbreak happen.
on May 10,2013 | 12:41PM
allie wrote:
low regulation state
on May 10,2013 | 12:13PM
Mana07 wrote:
It has nothing to do with regulation and everything to do with laziness, negligence, and carelessness. More government regulation doesn't fix lazy.
on May 10,2013 | 06:29PM
yrusodz wrote:
allie regulation of the food service industry in Las Vegas is on par with most major municipalities. However it is with lapses in supervision that lackadaisical employees will cut corners and cause this kind of thing which is why your employer should never allow someone like you to handle the food.
on May 11,2013 | 09:48AM
st1d wrote:
they were already on an undercover restaurant reality show for t.v. that caught employees doing unsanitary things with customers' foods.

glad i never went there.

on May 10,2013 | 01:22PM
Hawaiians wrote:
Disgusting the sanitary standards need to be raised higher as it is! Is it just me or do you lose your appetite when at Taco bell and see the employees man-handling your burritos without gloves on- in between counting change, wiping sweat from their brow and everything else?
on May 10,2013 | 03:25PM
Mana07 wrote:
If you see that, you should report them. That is not OK.
on May 10,2013 | 08:10PM
Forever_Grateful wrote:
A couple years ago I went in to a Pizza Hut. While deciding what I wanted to order, the gal was taking care of customers coming in to pick up their orders, some paying with cc's and some with cash. I placed my order to go, paid for it with cash and when pau with me, she went back to the kitchen and started working with the food WITHOUT gloves NOR did she WASH HER HANDS! GROSS ME OUT!! I came home, signed on to Pizza Hut Hawaii's website, went to the "contact us" section and placed my complaint of what I saw and my recommendation. This was around 8 or so at night and much to my surprise I got a response back immediately - and it was not one of those form letter responses. While I had stated the name of the town, (we only have 1 PH here) this guy wanted to know WHO she was, what was her name? So I wrote him back and told him. So companies do take it serious and if anyone ever sees unsantitary situations in a restaurant should report it. I also made another complaint on something I saw that was extremely GROSS in the buffet line at Sizzler's - NO response, and NO changes at the restaurant so I quit going there.
on May 11,2013 | 05:30AM
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