A county health official said four Montgomery County residents have become sick since early September after eating at Moby Dick House of Kabob, in an outbreak that has led to a lawsuit.
Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Mary Anderson said last week that four county residents were among nine people in Maryland infected with salmonella after eating at Moby Dick House of Kabob.
The Middle Eastern chain has restaurants in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. There are six branches in Montgomery County.
A woman who said she caught salmonella after eating at Moby Dick during a baby shower in Virginia is seeking $500,000 in a lawsuit filed against the restaurant chain Thursday. She did not specify the location.
The Maryland Department of Health said last month that it was investigating nine cases of salmonella involving Moby Dick House of Kabob since Sept. 10, including eight in which people reported eating hummus.
Both the lawsuit and Virginia’s health department show that the outbreak is broader. There have been at least 14 documented cases of salmonella-related infections in customers who ate at Moby Dick House of Kabob between Maryland and Virginia.
Anderson said she did not know the locations of the restaurants where the four sickened Montgomery County residents ate.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health declined to provide any information about which restaurants were affected or where the customers lived, citing patient privacy policies.
In response to the reports of illness, Moby Dick suspended the sale of hummus at all of its restaurants, but all of them have stayed open.
Moby Dick spokesman Alex Momeni wrote in an email last week that following the salmonella reports, the restaurant immediately hired an outside food safety and environmental science consultant to “review the matter.”
“Samples of our hummus were sent to an ISO Certified Food Testing facility earlier this week and, thankfully, the results of that testing have come back negative for the presence of any harmful pathogens,” he wrote.
News of the Virginia salmonella cases were disclosed in a lawsuit filed by Arlington, Va., resident Golbahar Jalali-Jafari against the chain last week.
Jalali-Jafari, according to court documents, reported that she ate hummus from Moby Dick on Sept. 8 at a friend’s baby shower. The next day, she felt tired and experienced diarrhea and abdominal pain.
The court documents stated that Jalali-Jafari was still experiencing symptoms from salmonella when she filed the lawsuit in Arlington County Circuit Court.
Additionally, many of her friends who ate the hummus at the shower submitted stool samples that tested positive for the bacteria, although Jalali-Jafari’s tested negative, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, there are eight “confirmed or probable” salmonella infections in Virginia linked to Moby Dick House of Kabob.
Katherine McCombs, the foodborne disease epidemiology program coordinator for the Virginia Department of Health, said in an interview Monday afternoon that five cases of salmonella from Moby Dick have been confirmed and other cases are “probable.” She didn’t specify how many probable cases there were.
The confirmed salmonella cases, she said, were done through lab testing. The probable cases, she said, are instances in which people have told health department officials about becoming sick after eating at Moby Dick House of Kabob or they have submitted complaints through its online reporting system.
“It’s a fluctuating number as the cases are confirmed,” she said.
McCombs said Virginia’s and Maryland’s health departments are working together on investigating the salmonella cases.
Asked whether hummus was to blame for the salmonella outbreak, McCombs said it was “one of the food items they are looking at,” but added that a few who reported becoming sick at the restaurant did not eat the hummus.
McCombs said there is a central commissary in Maryland where “a good portion” of Moby Dick’s food originates. She did not know where the commissary is.
It was not clear whether any of Moby Dick’s D.C. locations also had customers who ate at the restaurant and became sick. Officials from the District of Columbia Department of Health could not be reached for comment Monday.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org