Health department shuts down northeast Harris Co. restaurant

June 26, 2013 7:53:25 AM PDT
The health department is forcing a northeast Harris County restaurant to shut down and fix problems after several people have gotten sick. They say they've found several violations.

It is not often you find a nine-year-old boy on summer break taking a nap in the afternoon, but Ashton has been through a lot.

"He was sick every 30 minutes to an hour for five days straight," said his mother, Debbie Rodriguez.

Ashton is among those who got sick after eating at Iguana Joe's in Humble on June 15.

"He had chips and salsa and a chocolate ice cream cone," Rodriguez said.

By Wednesday, the little fourth grader was in the hospital.

"Having to sit there and watch him go through what I saw him go through, it's pretty heartbreaking," Rodriguez said.

Ashton was diagnosed with salmonella. Rodriguez reported it to the Harris County Health Department, and with similar complaints coming in, investigators took a closer look. One visit led to two, which led to the discovery of seven critical violations. Most troubling was the food temperatures.

"Chicken, beef, sour cream, guacamole, they were all off temperature," said Michael Schaffer with the Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services.

Schaffer says they gave Iguana Joe's two days to correct the problems but on Monday...

"We found the same violations when we went out there," Schaffer said. "Because of the illness that had been reported and what epidemiology was working on, we felt it was in the best interest of the public to close the establishment."

The county says it's working with staff at Iguana Joe's. Sandra Walker, the restaurant's general manager, issued the following statement to Eyewitness News:

"First and foremost, we sincerely apologize to all individuals affected by this unforeseen incident. We want to assure them and rest assured we are working with the Harris County Health Department and doing everything possible to find out what caused this situation.

"In two years at the Atascocita location, we've operated with the highest standards in food handling operations. We have always scored very favorably with health inspections. We are doing everything in our power to get to the bottom of this."

A week ago, Rodriguez says, she got a denial.

"This isn't something you hide. You have an obligation to make sure that people don't get sick," Rodriguez said.

Ashton spent four days in the hospital and is slowly recovering.

The health department plans to go to the restaurant on Wednesday to train staff on proper procedures. County officials say they will not allow the restaurant to reopen until they are satisfied with the changes.

Meanwhile, they encourage anyone who gets sick after eating at a restaurant to report it.

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