Owner of SJ restaurant linked to Shigella outbreak speaks out

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Mariscos San Juan #3 in downtown San Jose reopened for business on Friday, after being shut down for three weeks following the shigella outbreak that led to dozens of people getting sick around the Bay Area. Shigella is an infectious bacterial disease.

The owner, who is speaking out for the first time, believes it was an outside source that brought in the highly contagious bacteria into his once thriving restaurant.

"This is first time this happened in my store, I opened my store in 2000," said Segio Cruz, the restaurant owner.

The health department gave them the green light after the restaurant underwent a top-to-bottom cleaning and after all the food was thrown out.

Cruz owns three restaurants. He says since the shigella outbreak, business has dropped off 70 percent.

He says even more damaging is the negative reputation generated by the incident, which he feels his restaurant does not deserve. "You can get sick in your house, your office, anywhere," insists Cruz.

In fact, the health department says they may never know the source of the outbreak that began on October 16, leading to 182 people being sickened, including a dozen who were admitted to the ICU.

Of all the employees tested, only one came back positive for shigella.

Health officials did, however, determined that that employee did not cause the outbreak.

County officials said the restaurant's owners voluntarily discarded all food products on site, cleaned and sanitized the facility and retrained all employees in proper food handling methods.

Still, some customers say they will be back.

"I'm pretty sure it will clean up good, it's a good place to eat," said Josh Almanza, a customer.

And Cruz is determined to earn the trust of his customers once again.

"I'm going to try and bring people back to my stores," he said.

Cruz said homeless people often use the bathroom inside his restaurant and that perhaps could be another contributing factor. But again, there is still no definitive answers as to what caused this massive, and now mysterious, outbreak.

Of the 94 people confirmed with shigella, 74 are in Santa Clara County, 11 in Alameda County, three in San Mateo County, three in Santa Cruz County, one in Marin County and two in Merced County, public health officials said. The majority of those infected ate at the restaurant on Oct. 16 or 17, although a few possible secondary infections were also reported.

Most of the people who were hospitalized as a result of the illness have been released.

Three San Jose men who ate at the restaurant and developed shigella have filed separate lawsuits in Santa Clara County Superior Court alleging negligence by the restaurant's owners, Sergio Becerra Cruz and Lourdes Garcia Becerra, according to their attorneys at the firms Rains Lucia Stern, PC, in San Francisco, and Marler Clark in Seattle, Washington.

According to the CDC, the symptoms of Shigella include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps starting a day or two after being exposed to the bacteria. The symptoms usually go away in 5-10 days. Shigella can be stopped by frequent and careful hand-washing with soap. Click here for further details on Shigella from the CDC.
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