Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Carmel on the Case: Bad Barbecue?
A popular Hialeah restaurant is being blamed by health authorities for making a family sick over the holidays. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case with their story, and a look at the facility's past problems.
WSVN -- Mesa's BBQ has been operating for years in Hialeah and has a loyal following, among them the Curbelo family.
Frank stood in a line similar to this one to get cooked pork and side dishes for his family's traditional Noche Buena Celebration on Christmas Eve.
By Christmas morning, he says, family members started calling to say they were sick.
Matty Curbelo, Sick for Christmas: "Everybody rushing to the bathroom or rushing to a hospital or rushing to a clinic or something, because they were sick."
Frank Curbelo, Sick for Christmas: "I get another call from my other brother stating the same thing, and it just kept on, domino effect, and before you know it, everybody was sick."
Frank's father, who has other health issues, was hit hard.
Frank Curbelo Sr.: "All day, all night, yeah."
Lourdes Curbelo: "Stomach ache really bad. He thought he was going to die."
Lourdes Curbelo says she had to rush Frank Sr. to the hospital.
He had questioned the meal at the table.
Lordes Curbelo: "The second that my husband took that plate, he looked at me, and he said, 'You know what? I don't like the taste or the smell.'"
Frank Curbelo Sr.: "Yeah, of the pork."
Lourdes Curbelo: "Of the pork."
Within a few days, the family contacted the state Health Department to say they suspected the food from Mesa's made them sick.
Frank Curbelo Sr.: "The doctor says it's food poisoning."
And now, after a three-week investigation, the Health Department has determined the food made them sick.
Juan Suarez, Florida Department of Health: "That there was an association between the yuca, the pork and the congri rice."
Carmel Cafiero: "When you say an association, do you mean that's what you think made these people sick?"
Juan Suarez, Florida Department of Health: "Right, yeah."
When the Health Department started its investigation, another state agency inspected Mesa's.
As a result, the restaurant was cited for 43 violations, 22 of them critical, meaning they could contribute to food contamination or illness.
However, state documents indicate the violations are not an immediate threat to the public.
Part of what inspectors found:
- Potentially hazardous food thawed at room temperature
- Food not in original containers or identified
- Employees switching from working with raw food to cooked food without washing their hands
- Raw animal foods stored over ready-to-eat food
- The same utensil used to handle raw and cooked product
- Ready-to-eat, cooked food prepared on site and held more than 24 hours
- Food contact surfaces and utensils not sanitized
- The outside kitchen open and vulnerable to vermin
Carmel Cafiero, Investigative Reporter: "And this isn't the first time Mesa's has been hit with critical violations. 7News has learned last November, Mesa's also was cited. Within a two-month period, officials found more than 100 violations, almost half of them considered critical."
And several of those issues, like not having a hand-washing sink available for employees to use at all times, are repeat violations.
As a result, the state agency that regulates restaurants has filed a complaint against Mesa's that could result in fines or the suspension or revocation of its license.
Mesa's turned down our request for an interview or a statement.
Meanwhile, the family is most grateful that Frank Curbelo survived being so sick on Christmas Day.
For more information on restaurant inspections, please contact:
Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation
If you suspect food poisoning, contact:
Miami-Dade County Health Department
Florida Department of Health
IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE: