NORTH READING, MA — Was it the antipasto salad or the restaurant's house salad dressing? Either way, a popular North Reading restaurant is closed following salmonella complaints.

Kitty's Restaurant, a fixture on Main Street in North Reading for almost 75 years, has been closed because of salmonella. According to the Center for Disease Control, Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the United States every year. Food is the source for about 1 million of these illnesses. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment.

Kitty's issue goes back to June 23 when 39 guests filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Health. Following the complaints the restaurant was closed for a full cleaning and sanitization of the building before reopening July 6. It has since been closed again.

According to the town website, on July 3, the North Reading Board of Health received complaints from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health about a salmonella outbreak that was believed to have occurred at Kitty's Restaurant on June 23. Thirty-nine people filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Of those complaints, there were nine confirmed cases of salmonella, and an additional thirty suspected illness of salmonella.

The food suspected to be contaminated was narrowed down to the antipasto salad. The Board of Health conducted its initial investigation on July 3, 2018, working with the restaurant owners to try to determine how the food was contaminated. The investigation included determining the source of the food, how the food was prepared, who prepared it, how it was served, and who it was served to.

On July 5, after receiving additional information regarding potential illnesses associated with visits on June 25th, the Board of Health recommended that Kitty's management close the restaurant in order to conduct a full cleaning and sanitization of the building. The Board of Health, working with the State Division of Epidemiology and Immunization, also provided information and guidance to Kitty's management to test forty six employees who may have been working during the outbreak. All tested employees must be cleared by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health before being able to return to work.

On July 6, Kitty's was allowed to re-open after the facility received a comprehensive cleaning under the direction and guidance of the North Reading Board of Health.

The town continued its investigation and reviewed additional complaints about the restaurant on July 9, at which time the North Reading Health Department also conducted an onsite inspection of Kitty's.

The inspection revealed several food safety and sanitation concerns relating to unsanitary conditions, cross contamination and time and temperature abuse. It also indicated that the restaurant had not complied with the Health Department's original orders of July 5, and several employees prohibited from working from the salmonella incident from June 23-25 were working on site and preparing food. Those employees had not been cleared to return to work by either the Massachusetts Department of Public Health or the North Reading Health Department. In addition to the antipasto salad, the restaurant's house salad dressing was identified as a potential source of contamination and is being tested.

In the interest of protecting the public health due to the potential of a secondary outbreak, and in response to the establishment's failure to comply with the orders of the North Reading Health Department, on July 9 the establishment was ordered closed until further notice. The restaurant was ordered to clean/sanitize its facilities and all remaining staff will be required to be tested and cleared prior to returning to work.

The North Reading Health Department will continue to work closely with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Division of Epidemiology and Immunization on this matter.

Photo by Bob Holmes, Patch

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