Local Restaurant At Center of E.coli Investigation Speaks Out

The investigation continues in Stephens County into an outbreak of illness Health Department officials say was caused by E.coli bacteria last month.

State health department officials say they confirmed that 11 people became sick and were confirmed to have a strain of E.coli.

Health officials say that 10 of the 11 patients reported eating at the BBQ Shack in Toccoa during the weekend of May 2 through 4, with no other common exposures being reported among patients.

BBQ Shack Owner Herman Hart said that he is continuing to cooperate with health department officials in the investigation.

“We have done everything in the world that we could,” said Hart. “We have done everything (the Health Department) has asked us to do and more, stuff that we did not have to do. It has cut my business about 80 percent.”

Har has owned the BBQ Shack for 25 years.

He said the weekend of May 2 through May 4 was a busy weekend.

“That weekend that people got sick, we probably served 2500 people at least and the next weekend after that, we fed probably 2500 people,” said Hart. “Then I guess word got out all over town (and business) went ‘boom’.”

According to Health Department officials, only a relatively small number of patrons who ate there that weekend became ill and add that there have no new cases of illness since the ones detected between May 4 and May 8.

In addition, Health Department officials said that after the cases were reported, they collected a number of samples from the restaurant and all of them tested negative for E.coli and also say there does not appear to be any current health threat from E.coli at the restaurant.

Health Department officials said that it is not clear how the bacteria was introduced, adding that in similar cases elsewhere in the past, a particular food supplied by a vendor has been found to have been contaminated.

Also, the BBQ Shack received an “A” rating of 92 on its last Health Department inspection on May 24.

Hart said he does not understand how such a small number of people became sick when so many ate there over the course of that weekend.

“Here is what I cannot understand and what nobody else can understand,” said Hart. “We do everything in bulk. I could understand if they got sick on slaw, but if they got sick on slaw, it probably would have been 125 people because we mix enough to feed 125 people. If they got sick off the stew, it would have been 300 or 400 people because we make stew 50 gallons at a time. If it was one ham, it would have made 25 to 30 people sick. That is what I cannot understand. If it would have made a big crowd sick, I would understand it. But I cannot imagine making just a few sick.”

The Health Department noted that the BBQ Shack has been extremely cooperative throughout the investigation.

The Health Department cautioned that it is not always possible to determine the source of the bacteria in these investigations.