Boise restaurant Pho Tam to remain closed for renovation after salmonella issues

The owners of Pho Tam restaurant — closed earlier this month following concerns over salmonella poisoning and failure to comply with food safety rules — do not intend to reopen anytime soon.

Instead, they plan to renovate the Vietnamese restaurant at 1098 N. Orchard St. before reopening sometime in the future, according to conversations they’ve had with officials from the Central District Health Department.

On April 9, the health department suspended Pho Tam’s food-establishment license after an inspection revealed two critical violations and two repeat violations. The inspectors determined employees were not using proper procedures to prevent foodborne illness.

The inspection came two days after health department officials conducted one-on-one food safety consultations with restaurant workers to ensure that the food served there was safe.

While closed, Pho Tam will be allowed to retain its food-establishment license. The owners will be required to meet with health department officials, who need to approve a plan review before construction will be allowed. That applies for any existing restaurant undertaking a remodel or for a new restaurant.

A week after the restaurant closed, the family of a 6-year-old Boise boy filed suit against the restaurant. Derek Anderson and Jennifer Gatfield-Anderson claim their son, identified in court papers by his initials, F.A., was sickened by a relatively rare strain of salmonella poisoning present in the dishes the family consumed at the restaurant March 12.

Two days after the boy ate from a meal that included egg rolls, General’s chicken and a house noodle dish, he became nauseous and began vomiting.

Those symptoms were accompanied by stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, muscle aches, a headache and fatigue, according to the lawsuit filed in state court in Boise. The boy also suffered from a urinary tract infection and blood in his urine.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare later contacted the parents and told them their son tested positive for salmonella poisoning. He was one of five people allegedly sickened by salmonella poisoning at the restaurant since late February.

The boy, who was treated with antibiotics, remained ill for three weeks, according to the filing from Seattle food-safety attorney Bill Marler.

In a previous conversation with the Idaho Statesman, restaurant owner Long Doan questioned whether the child could have gotten sick from eating at her restaurant. She said a 6-year-old wouldn’t have eaten a lot of food.

At the time, Doan said it was unclear whether the restaurant, which had operated since 2010, would reopen.

Health inspectors have visited 11 times in the five years the restaurant has been open. They have cited the restaurant for 21 violations. Four times they found no violations.

Last June, the restaurant was written up for inadequate hand-washing facilities for workers and improper cleaning and sanitizing of food-contact surfaces, both critical violations. The other violations dealt with thermometers, dishwashing machinery and the restaurant’s physical facilities.

Two follow-up inspections in July found only only violation, dealing with the physical facilities. No violations were detected during a July 23 inspection.

Health department spokeswoman Christine Myron said the salmonella problems appeared to be localized. No other outbreaks have been reported, she said.

Sickness from salmonella is typically caused from people eating food contaminated with feces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every year, salmonella causes 1 million illnesses, 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.

Salmonella bacteria is found in the intestines of people, animals and birds, according to the Mayo Clinic. The most common sources are raw poultry, meat, seafood and eggs.

Generally, people infected with salmonella become sick within 12 to 72 hours of exposure, the CDC said. Common symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever. The illness usually lasts between four and seven days, and most people recover without treatment.

Young children and the elderly, along with people with a compromised immune system, are more likely to become severely ill from salmonella than otherwise healthy adults.

The strain that sickened Pho Tam’s customers, salmonella schwarzengrund, is relatively rare. According to the Food Safety Program at Cornell University, four outbreaks have been reported in the United States since 1996.