Originally created 09/13/03

Outbreak cases are linked to restaurant



KENNESAW, Ga. - Nearly two dozen people have become sick with an unusual strain of salmonella, and many of the cases appear to be linked to a popular Kennesaw steak and buffet restaurant, Georgia Division of Public Health officials say.

Of 23 people who have become ill in the past few months with the salmonella berta bacteria, at least 17 ate at the Golden Corral restaurant in Kennesaw, said epidemiologist Susan Lance-Parker of the Division of Public Health. Officials are not certain whether three of the other victims had eaten there.

"We feel pretty certain there's a connection with the restaurant," Ms. Lance-Parker said earlier this week.

Most of the people infected with salmonella were sick for about a week with symptoms that included diarrhea, fever and stomach pain.

One infected person who ate at the restaurant died. The person had other severe health conditions and it isn't known whether the infection contributed to the death, division spokesman Richard Quartarone said.

The restaurant voluntarily closed Wednesday to allow health officials to investigate the outbreak and to thoroughly clean the eatery, Mr. Quartarone said.

Charles Winston, the owner of 12 Golden Corral restaurants in the Atlanta area, including the Kennesaw location, said he is working closely with state and county health officials to determine what happened.

"We are just devastated," Mr. Winston said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has been ill. Hopefully we'll break this cycle."

Mr. Winston said he will order a complete cleaning of the restaurant after the investigation. He said he did not know when the restaurant will reopen.

The state typically has four to six cases of that strain of the illness each year, Ms. Lance-Parker said. The Cobb County Health Department's most recent inspection score for the restaurant was 99 out of 100 points.

"The owner's been excellent ... really cooperative and really helpful," Mr. Quartarone said. "They want to make sure folks are protected."

Ms. Lance-Parker said an inspection last month showed the Golden Corral to be clean and well-run, and employees were ruled out as a source of the infection.

She said there were no new cases for some time, and health officials thought the outbreak was over. But cases started turning up again this week involving people who also reported eating at the restaurant, she said.

Gregory Dudley, 50, of Woodstock, Ga., said he normally eats at the Kennesaw Golden Corral five nights a week.

"I have to find me another place to hang out" while the restaurant is closed, he said, but promised "I'll come back."

With the restaurant shut down, state and county health workers have moved in, along with a food safety expert hired by the owner, Ms. Lance-Parker said. One possibility they are looking at is contaminated equipment.