Restaurant eyed as source of salmonella outbreak in Portales

Karl Terry

State health officials are investigating the possibility of a link between six reported cases of salmonella and a Portales restaurant, according to a New Mexico Department of Health press release.

All six people ate at La Hacienda Restaurant in Portales prior to becoming ill, according to Dr. Winona Stoltzfus, regional health officer for NMDOH in Roswell. The restaurant has not been closed, according to the owners.

“This is a different type of salmonella than the one that is going on nationally,” Stoltzfus said.

She would not say what the possible causes for this type of salmonella might be.

“It’s way too early to say right now,” she said. “I really don’t want to speculate at this point. We want to let this investigation move forward first.”

La Hacienda manager Randy Ornelas, whose family owns the business, confirmed that inspectors had been in the restaurant. He said he was told that they couldn’t definitely link the outbreak to his restaurant yet.

“They don’t know if it’s from here or another restaurant,” Ornelas said. “They can’t link it to here yet because the lab reports aren’t back.”

Ornelas said he uses the same food suppliers as other restaurants in town and that his family has always followed local and state regulations and runs a clean restaurant.

State Department of Health officials began interviews with people who ate recently at La Hacienda — both customers who became sick and those who didn’t — in order to determine the most likely sources of the infection, according to Stoltzfus.

The New Mexico Environment Department has inspected the restaurant and collected food samples that will be tested at the state’s lab, according to the release.

NMDH has also contacted clinics and health care providers in the area and alerted them to be on the look out for patients with salmonella, according to the release.

Tersa Bonifant, director of infection control at Roosevelt General Hospital, confirmed that the hospital’s lab had recently had three tests come back positive for salmonella.

She said she did not know whether any of those cases were hospitalized with more severe symptoms — something that would be rare.

According to the state press release, most people develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness lasts four to seven days and most recover without treatment. Some people who have weakened immune systems or who develop severe diarrhea may require hospitalization.

“We’re worried, we’ve become very close to our customers,” Ornelas said. “They’re like family to us.”

Ornelas said he has been concerned for some time about the ongoing news of an outbreak related to tomatoes and more recently jalape