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Diner cited after lunch that sickened dozens

SANTA FE – A Santa Fe diner until recently called Bad Ass Sandwich Shop has been cited by a state agency over a holiday lunch at the state Department of Health’s headquarters that left dozens of people suffering from food poisoning and with gastrointestinal symptoms.

The New Mexico Environment Department says it has served the downtown eatery – recently renamed Kick Ass Sandwich Shop, as the result of a legal dispute – with a notice of violation for not having a catering permit.

Paul Rhien, a spokesman for the Health Department, said Friday that epidemiology tests confirmed the contamination came from the restaurant’s food.

Shannon Quintana of Kick Ass Sandwich Shop couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. He told the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper that he didn’t cater the Dec. 14 lunch and that the Health Department had ordered food from Kick Ass to be served alongside other dishes brought by employees.

But Rhien said the restaurant set up a buffet line and served food, and there weren’t many food items prepared by Health Department workers.

“We are simultaneously working with the vendor to determine the source of the ailments and to take appropriate steps to eliminate such causes in the future, including possible penalties,” the Environment Department’s spokeswoman said in a statement. “We reiterated to them (Kick Ass) that they cannot cater if they are not permitted to do so.”

The statement noted that the Environment Department “investigates and resolves incidents of foodborne illness in public food establishments throughout our state, which is why we launched our investigation immediately after receiving reports from the Department of Health’s leadership.”

The statement said NMED “will be issuing a Notice of Violation with fines.”

Health workers fall ill

The Health Department’s holiday lunch, which was held in the department’s offices at the Runnels Building – where employees headquartered there are the same ones who investigate disease outbreaks around the state – resulted in “reports of a number of employees becoming ill with mild gastrointestinal illness,” according to a message sent to employees Monday by Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher.

More than 200 department workers are estimated to have attended and about 71 reported gastrointestinal symptoms that developed within 24 to 48 hours.

Rhien said Friday that the Department of Health was not aware the sandwich shop didn’t have a catering permit. “If a restaurant doesn’t have the appropriate permit, we would expect them to refuse our request to cater an event — just as anyone would expect,” he said in an e-mail.

“The lab results from our epidemiological investigation confirmed that clostridium perfringens bacteria were the source of the outbreak,” he also said. C. perfringens is one of the most common causes of foodborne illness in the country, causing diarrhea and cramps over 24 hours .

The holiday lunch was paid for with worker contributions to an employee events committee, not by taxpayers, Rhien said.

The sandwich shop, located at Grant Avenue and Palace Avenue, changed its name to Kick Ass in recent weeks after it was sued by Bad Ass Coffee Company of Hawaii, Inc., a Utah-based chain with a Bernalillo location.

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