A Lake Forest restaurant linked to an E. coli outbreak was closed Saturday by Orange County health officials after a 12th customer and an employee tested positive for the bacteria.
The customer, a juvenile, ate at the Foothill Ranch Souplantation on March 25, said Orange County Health Care Agency spokesman Howard Sutter. Sutter called the new case "a significant development" because the other cases involved customers who ate at the restaurant on March 23 or 24.
A company spokeswoman said the employee was a bus boy and was not involved in food preparation. Sutter said the employee ate meals at the restaurant, in the 26000 block of Towne Centre Drive, but health investigators have not determined if he was infected there or by an outside source.
Sutter said health officials have not identified the source of the \o7E. coli \f7 outbreak. The strain of the bacteria is rare -- but not necessarily deadlier -- and has not been reported in California, he said. It is different from the strain linked to the spinach grown near Salinas, Calif., that was identified as the cause of an \o7E. coli \f7outbreak last summer that killed three people, including a toddler.
Despite the growing number of infected people linked to the restaurant, Sutter said there was no cause for alarm. The employee shows no symptoms of the infection and the customer was not hospitalized, he said.
"We can't draw any conclusions from the latest developments. The only thing this tells us is that we have the first reported case [of a customer] outside of March 23 and March 24," Sutter said.
Three people were hospitalized after being infected with the bacteria. Two were released last week, but a 12-year-old girl is still at Children's Hospital of Orange County in Orange in good condition. CHOC spokeswoman Denise Almazan said the girl was transferred out of intensive care Friday.
Sutter said Souplantation officials volunteered Friday to close the restaurant until all employees, who number about 40, could be tested and the results known. It takes 72 hours for tests to be completed.
But he said county health officials Saturday decided to suspend the restaurant's permit as a precaution. Ordering the eatery to close will allow authorities to closely monitor its reopening through a rigid inspection, Sutter said, though Health Care Agency investigators have not found any health violations.
Company spokeswoman Pam Ritz said the restaurant might reopen later this week, but employees "will not be put back to work until they are tested and the results are back." She said the San Diego-based company is willing to pay for the testing.
The company did not object to the county's decision to close the restaurant, she said.
"We would like the county to work with us when we reopen and expect them to be fully involved in the process. It's not unreasonable," Ritz said.
Souplantation customers can call (800) 328-7761 with comments and concerns.