Boise & Garden City

Health department suspends Pho Tam’s license after violations found at Boise restaurant

The Central District Health Department on Thursday suspended the food establishment license of a Boise restaurant linked to five cases of Salmonella poisoning.

Pho Tam, located at 1098 N. Orchard St., was shut down after health inspectors found two critical violations of food safety regulations and two other violations.

“Due to the violations identified today, we determined they were not demonstrating proper practices to prevent foodborne illness so we suspended their food establishment license,” health department spokeswoman Christine Myron said in an email sent to The Idaho Statesman.

In her email, Myron did not identify the specific violations discovered Thursday. She was out of the office and not available for questioning late Thursday afternoon.

No one answered the phone at the restaurant early Thursday evening.

The closure order came just two days after health department officials held one-on-one education training with the Vietnamese restaurant’s employees on proper food safety procedures.

Pho Tam, which has operated since 2010, has 15 days to contact the health department to request a compliance conference to discuss with owner Long Doan the major risk factors that were found and develop a plan to control the risk factors that could make customers sick.

At an inspection last June, health inspectors found five violations, two of them critical. 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.

Five people reported getting sick from salmonella poisoning since late February after eating at Pho Tam, the Central District Health Department confirmed to the Idaho Statesman earlier this week.

The most recent sickness took place in mid-March, but wasn’t reported to health officials until Thursday, Myron said.

Health inspectors last week tested food at the restaurant and did not find any traces of salmonella or other harmful bacteria, Myron said.

The outbreak does not appear to be tied to salmonella cases in other parts of the United States, she said.

The health department had allowed the restaurant to keep operating until Thursday’s closure order was issued. Earlier, the owner voluntarily closed her restaurant for two days so workers could do a thorough cleaning of the restaurant, Myron said.

Myron said those sickened included adults and children. Seattle attorney Bill Marler, whose practice focuses on food safety cases, said he spoke with a Boise man who said his 6-year-old son became sick after eating at Pho Tam and was ill for three weeks.

Every year, salmonella causes 1 million illnesses, 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most people are infected by eating foods contaminated by feces.

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.

In some cases, diarrhea may become so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized, the CDC said. In those instances, the infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other areas. In those cases, antibiotics are needed to prevent the illness from getting worse.

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.

Sixty-seven cases tied to handling live poultry were reported in 2007 in Massachusetts and New Jersey. That same year, 79 cases caused by people handling contaminated dry dog food were reported across the country.

The 1996 incident caused 11 people to get sick at two nursing homes and a hospital in Oregon.