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Sizzler Hit By Food-Poisoning Outbreak : Health: Two restaurants in Oregon have been closed. Scope of the problem remains unclear.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sizzler International said Monday that it temporarily closed two restaurants in Oregon after a food-poisoning outbreak, and it hired a microbiologist to help find the source of the bacterial infection.

Meanwhile, the news helped push Sizzler’s stock price down nearly 12% on the New York Stock Exchange, falling $1.125 per share to close at $8.50.

The scope of the problem remains unclear. The Los Angeles-based company said seven people contracted an E. coli bacterial infection after eating at two Sizzler franchises in southern Oregon in mid-March.

But Oregon health officials told the Associated Press that 75 to 100 people called the department over the weekend, and 17 people were being tested after reporting bloody diarrhea. At least nine people were hospitalized, they said, and all but one have been discharged.

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“We are fully committed to discovering what the actual source of this problem is and solve it,” said Christopher R. Thomas, Sizzler’s executive vice president of finance. Thomas said the company believes that the incidents were isolated.

Such bacteria was responsible for a recent food-poisoning epidemic at Jack in the Box restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, linked to undercooked hamburgers believed to be contaminated with animal feces.

Sizzler’s policy is to cook ground beef, which is more susceptible to contamination, to an internal temperature of 160 degrees to kill any bacteria, Thomas said.

The two Oregon Sizzler restaurants--one in Grants Pass and the other in North Bend--are owned by the same franchisee and have virtually identical suppliers and menus, which suggests a common source of contamination, Thomas said. The restaurants will remain closed until the investigation is finished, he said.

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Sales have been hurt at some of the other 26 Oregon restaurants, Thomas said, adding that sales elsewhere in the chain appear to be holding steady.


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