Health officials say 200 people from 20 states and two foreign countries got sick from Salmonella, likely after eating at Firefly Tapas Kitchen & Bar on Paradise Road two weeks ago.
“At least 196 patrons and 4 employees who consumed food and/or drinks at Firefly restaurant during April 21-26, 2013 have been determined to be confirmed or probable cases of Salmonella infection,” a report released Friday by the Southern Nevada Health District said.
Health District inspectors began investigating a possible salmonella outbreak April 26 when eight people who had eaten at Firefly reported severe stomach sicknesses. Days later, the number jumped to 39. Then, 86.
The Health District forced the restaurant to close after discovering 44 health code violations, three more than the minimum needed to close the restaurant. Inspectors said kitchen employees handled food with bare, unwashed hands and stored ingredients, including meat, at improper temperatures. Major violations included ineffective pest control and broken equipment. Inspectors found a thermometer that read 100 degrees despite being submerged in ice water.
As the health district continued its investigation, it received calls from Firefly patrons in 20 states and two foreign countries, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, North Caroline, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, Canada and the United Kingdom.
All of the sickened people had eaten at Firefly between April 21 and April 24.
Of 14 stool samples collected from ill patrons, 12 tested positive for salmonella and two tested negative.
Inspectors then sent 19 food samples collected from Firefly on April 26 to a lab for testing. Of those samples, 11 tested negative for salmonella and eight are pending. Firefly remains the suspected source because all of the sickened people ate there.
Scientists initially suspected the Salmonella came from an egg-based aioli sauce. Epidemiologist later proved the aioli sauce was not connected to the illnesses.
As of Friday, it still was unclear what caused patrons to get sick.
“[The staff] will continue to conduct tracebacks of some food products to try and identify how the food may have become contaminated at its source, during delivery, storage or preparation,” the report said.
The health district ordered Firefly operators to “rectify faulty food storage equipment and practices to ensure that food will be produced in a safe manner for consumption."
Firefly owner John Simmons said in a statement that he will keep working with the Health District to put health officials' recommendations in place. He said he already hired a “highly respected food safety and restaurant consultant with more than 25 years experience in the industry.” He did not name the consultant.
Simmons also said he has no plans to reopen the Firefly Paradise location, as he will be moving ahead with existing plans to open a new Firefly location up the street by the end of the month. He signed a lease for the new space at 3824 Paradise Road in August, he said. It previously held the Z'Tejas restaurant. The existing Firefly is at 3900 Paradise Road.
The relocation plan predated the food poisoning outbreak, spokeswoman Michele Voelkening said.
“Firefly has been a proud member of Southern Nevada for 10 years, and we are optimistic that the combination of moving to this new location, (which) has a kitchen as large as the entire original Firefly restaurant, and the recommended retraining on operations and procedures, will help us regain the confidence of the community,” Simmons said.
These are the foods health department officials collected from Firefly for testing:
From Firefly on Paradise Road
• Chorizo (cooked and raw)
• Cooked pasta
• Cooked rice
• Cut cooked potatoes
• Garlic cream sauce
• Garlic in oil
• Macaroni and cheese
• Mussel sauce
• Potato bravas
• Salsa verde
• Shrimp (raw)
• Stuffed mushroom
• Tomato sauce
From Dragonfly (a sister restaurant to Firefly, also owned by Simmons) on Paradise Road
• Aioli sauce
• Blanched fries
• Heavy whipping cream
• Rice Shrimp
• Stuffed mushroom
• Tartar sauce
• Tempura batter
• Tuna skewer