Health Department investigates possible E. coli outbreak at Alexander County restaurant

TAYLORSVILLE, N.C. — The Health Department is investigating a possible outbreak of enteropathogenic E. coli at Mexico Viejo in Alexander County after more than 30 people reported getting sick after eating chicken dishes at the restaurant on Wednesday.

One person tested positive for enteropathogenic E.coli, or EPEC, after dining at the restaurant on Highway 90 in Taylorsville, health officials said.

[Mexico Viejo inspection report]

Manager Arnulfo Martinez had no problem walking us through the kitchen to show the safety precautions employees take.

Martinez doesn’t know what caused the outbreak.

“It surprised us,” Martinez said. “I mean, we've been open since 1994 and this is the first time it happened."

The affected customers told health department officials they are recovering.

"I'm really sorry and I hope they get better soon,” Martinez said. "I really hope they come back and understand that something went wrong."

The news of the E. coli outbreak caught some regulars off guard.

“I didn't know it until now. I probably wouldn't have eaten here,” customer Steven Whisang said. “Oh, chicken fajitas, chicken fajitas, it's just so good.”

Alexander County Health Director Leeanne Whisnant said environmental health specialists were sent to inspect the restaurant on Friday.

Enteropathogenic E. coli is bacteria that causes severe stomach cramps, diarrhea that is often bloody, vomiting and sometimes a low-grade fever, according to health officials.

The restaurant is being cooperative, officials said.

The manager walked Channel 9 through the kitchen and said they take cleanliness very seriously.

The restaurant’s sanitation rating is a 96.

"I think that's the lowest we've ever had,” Martinez said.

The restaurant remains open and officials said all the infected products have been removed.

"Today, the Health Department came in and just to be safe, we threw out all the chicken and just got fresh, new chicken in,” Martinez said.

The first report of sickness came on Friday.

Officials are asking customers who ate at Mexico Viejo Wednesday and have experienced symptoms to call the Health Department.

We obtained the last three inspection reports for Mexico Viejo.

Each time the restaurant was given a score of a 96, which is an A.

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