Boise & Garden City

Family of boy sickened at Boise’s Pho Tam restaurant files suit

Two days after a 6-year-old Boise boy ate a meal last month at Pho Tam restaurant, he became nauseous and began vomiting.

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

The lawsuit claims the boy, identified in court papers by his initials, F.A., was sickened by a relatively rare strain of salmonella poisoning present in the dishes his family ordered at the restaurant March 12.

The boy accompanied his parents, Derek Anderson and Jennifer Gatfield-Anderson, to the Vietnamese restaurant at 1098 N. Orchard St. They ordered egg rolls, General’s chicken and a house noodle dish.

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 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.

“The defendant failed to comply with the provisions of the Idaho Food Code, and, as a result, was negligent per se in its manufacture and sale of food adulterated with salmonella, a deadly pathogen,” Marler wrote in the lawsuit.

Owner Long Doan questioned whether the child could have gotten sick from eating at her restaurant. “If he’s 6 years old, he wouldn’t eat too much,” Doan said Wednesday, when told about the lawsuit.

It’s unclear, she said, whether the restaurant that has operated since 2010 will reopen. “We don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said.

Last week, the Central District Health Department suspended Pho Tam’s food-establishment license and closed the restaurant. The order came after health inspectors found four violations of food-safety regulations, two of them critical.

Two days earlier, health department officials held one-on-one education training with Pho Tam employees on proper food-safety procedures. That was after the restaurant voluntarily closed so workers could undertake a thorough cleaning.

Pho Tam has until April 24 to request a meeting with health officials to schedule a compliance conference to discuss the major risk factors that were found and to develop a plan to ensure that food is prepared safely. If no action is taken by Doan, the health department will revoke the restaurant’s license.

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.