Bistek tacos blamed in outbreak that sickened 33

City of Brownsville Department of Public Health shuts down El Rey Del Taco along Alton Gloor after customers ended up in the hospital due to food poisoning. (Miguel Roberts | Brownsville Herald)

BROWNSVILLE — The Cameron County Health Department has concluded a month-long investigation into a mass food poisoning event at El Rey del Taco that left more than 30 people sickened.

The culprit? Bistek tacos, health officials said.

“We received reports of 33 people who were seen at local emergency rooms and that prompted an epidemiological investigation which consisted of interviews with those affected, review of medical records and food sample testing,” said Dr. James W. Castillo II, of the Cameron County Health Authority. “The majority of individuals reported experiencing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea within hours of their meal.”

Four police reports first obtained by The Brownsville Herald revealed that 32 people contacted the Brownsville Police Department after suffering from vomiting and diarrhea after eating at El Rey del Taco between 9:30 and 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 30, with 29 of those people reporting that they ate bistek tacos.

Those police reports indicated that just before 11 p.m. on Jan. 30 people began showing up at Valley Regional Medical Center, Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville and Exceptional Emergency Center with symptoms of food poisoning, including vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.

Castillo said in a press release that those who suffered recovered shortly after receiving appropriate treatment and were discharged without anyone being admitted to the hospital.

The clinical diagnosis is noninflammatory gastroenteritis, a type of food poisoning that is a toxemia associated with ingestion of preformed microbial toxins, and is not an infection.

“We are confident that this is not an ongoing threat to public health as the necessary measures have been taken to resolve the situation,” Castillo said. “We will continue working with the health care providers and municipalities to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents.”

Since the Jan. 30 food poisoning incident, two lawsuits have been filed against the eatery.

Carlos Cardenas, Erika Uvalle and two minor children filed lawsuits seeking damages, though the petition doesn’t specify an amount.

Melissa Perez, Joel Chavez, Lisa Marie Chavez, Kimberly Montalvo Garcia and three minor children also filed a lawsuit against the restaurant.

On Feb. 19, Adolfo Ivan Sanchez filed paperwork seeking to join that lawsuit, saying he ate at the restaurant at 9:45 p.m., became sickened and went to the hospital to be treated for food poisoning.

“The Plaintiffs seek monetary relief of $200,000 each but not exceeding $1,000,000.00 each,” that lawsuit states.

The restaurant has since reopened.

“Since the conclusion of the investigation by the Cameron County Public Health Department, the Brownsville Public Health Department cleared El Rey Del Taco for re-opening, once a thorough inspection was conducted and the owner complied with all set procedures as required,” City Spokeswoman Christina Garza said.