Health Department Updates Suspected Foodborne Outbreak Reports of Illness at El Vaquero West in Orange, VA

Update: February 16, 2018.

On January 23, 2018, the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District (RRHD) received a complaint from a local resident who reported illness after eating at El Vaquero West.  The RRHD interviewed this resident, who identified a larger group of persons experiencing similar symptoms after eating a meal at the same restaurant on January 22nd and 23rd.

In response, the RRHD conducted a complaint investigation inspection January 23rd to notify the owner and to help identify any issues at the facility.  During the week of January 22nd, the RRHD continued to receive reports of suspected foodborne illness associated with eating at El Vaquero West on January 22nd and 23rd.  Additional ill persons were identified via telephone interviews and My Meal Detective, a web based self-reporting system available on the Virginia Department of Health website provided below. To help identify which food was potentially the source of illness, RRHD created a survey for the public and distributed it to all identified persons reporting illness.  Local residents shared the survey and survey responses have helped RRHD identify additional ill patrons.  Food specimens were collected from the restaurant on January 23rd and sent to the state laboratory for identification of illness causing pathogens.  Clinical specimens from ill patrons that met the exposure criteria (must have eaten at the restaurant on January 22nd or January 23rd and experienced gastro-intestinal illness within 22 hours of eating at the restaurant) were also collected and sent to the state laboratory for similar testing. Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens), a bacterial pathogen commonly associated with food-borne outbreaks, was identified in both food and human specimens.

The restaurant owner continues to assist the RRHD with this investigation and has taken additional steps recommended by the RRHD to protect the public.  The owner, out of caution and concern for his patrons, voluntarily closed the restaurant on January 25th to implement enhanced temperature control processes while more information was being gathered to ensure food safety.  With no new cases of illness identified after a follow-up inspection, the restaurant reopened Friday, January 26th.  At this time, the RRHD believes this to be an isolated incident. The owner has implemented more stringent control measures to ensure food safety.

For more information on food safety, restaurant regulations and inspections in Virginia please visit https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-health/food-safety-in-virginia/