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Bridgeport E. Coli Outbreak: A 'Horrendous' Experience For Carbón's Victims

By Ed Komenda | July 5, 2016 3:37pm | Updated on July 5, 2016 3:57pm

BRIDGEPORT — Joey Jagminas hasn’t eaten a full meal for days.

The 20-year-old Bridgeport resident said his troubles began three days after he visited Carbón Live Fire Mexican Grill with a buddy. It was Thursday, June 23, and Jagminas ordered up a steak burrito with onions and cilantro.

To say the least, the meal did not go down well.

By the following Tuesday, Jagminas was in a bed at Mercy Hospital for a 12-hour stay. Doctors there took a stool sample and discovered a toxin-producing E. coli called Shiga, a dangerous form of bacteria that could cause kidney failure.

He soon learned he was one of at least 25 people sickened from that particular E. coli after eating at Carbón, 300 W. 26th St.

“The pain from E. coli is horrendous,” Jagminas said from his home in the 2900 block of South Shields. “It’s like the worst stomach cramping you’ve experienced. It’s terrible.”

A Chicago Department of Public Health investigation showed the E. coli outbreak began there, but it’s unknown if the illness-sparking bacteria began with a particular food item or a sick employee.

Victims often get sick from the Shiga E. coli from eating food prepared by people who did not wash their hands well after using the bathroom.

As of Tuesday afternoon, health department officials did not have any update on whether or not the number of victims had grown. Carbón owners gathered at the restaurant Tuesday morning would not comment on the outbreak.

Carbón voluntarily closed until a health department investigation is complete. As a precaution, owners have also closed their second location at 810 N. Marshfield Ave. The restaurant will not participate in this year's Taste of Chicago festival.

City records show the health department passed the restaurant on every one of nine inspections since 2011. Four of those inspections happened after customers complained.

Health department officials have not provided details on those inspections.


Bill Marler, a Seattle-based lawyer who represents victims of food-borne illness and has filed many recent cases against Chipotle, is now working with five victims of the Bridgeport outbreak.

Over the past three decades, Marler has represented victims in many high-profile food cases, including an E. coli outbreak at Jack in the Box in 1993 that sickened more than 600 people and killed several children. The incident forced the government to change policy on the presence of E. coli in food.

Marler now has his eyes on Bridgeport. 

“All of them got takeout or delivery,” Marler said from his office in Seattle. “They’re all people who live pretty close to the restaurant.”

Three of the five people who retained Marler ordered Carbón through Grubhub. One spent more than a week in the hospital.

After talking with his clients and getting their accounts of eating at Carbon, Marler predicts health department officials won’t be able to tie the E. coli to a particular food.

“There doesn’t seem to be a particular common denominator,” Marler said. “Some people ate a chicken taco and salsa and chips, and another person ate a burrito.”

After E. coli outbreaks at Mexican restaurants, it’s often difficult to parse out the illness-causing item. Mexican restaurants use many of the same ingredients in their meals in slightly different combinations.


For the victims who landed in the hospital after eating at Carbón, life has been hellish.

“I don’t know what’s worse — sitting around and not being able to leave or not being able to eat,” said Jagminas, the first reported case of the Carbón E. coli at Mercy Hospital. “It’s mind numbing sitting here not being able to eat.”

E. coli symptoms include debilitating stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Though most cases clear up in a week, the worst of them can cause a type of kidney failure known as hemolytic uremic syndrome.

The most common form of E. coli causes an estimated 96,000 illnesses, 3,200 hospitalizations and 31 deaths in the U.S. every year, according to Food Safety News.

Since Jagminas landed in the hospital with severe stomach cramping and learned he contracted E. coli, he has lost 13 pounds. The most he has been able to eat is part of a chicken sandwich.

He took a week off from his Downtown job and needs to take most of another week to recover.

“It sucks,” said Jagminas, who is now on prescribed antispasmodic medicines to quell the painful quakes in his gut. “For the first few days, I pretty much couldn’t pick my head up off the couch.”

The illness has limited Jagminas’ activities to watching TV, reading and sitting.

If he could eat anything in the world right now, Jagminas would down ice cream. Right now, logging endless trips to the bathroom, he’ll have to wait.

Jagminas has eaten at Carbón at least a hundred times, he said. After falling ill, his opinion on one of his favorite restaurants has changed.

“Whether it's Carbón’s fault or the distributor or whatever it was,” Jagminas said,” I view it as negligence and probably won’t eat there again.”

Joey Jagminas (DNAinfo/Ed Komenda)

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