We’ve all had an unsavory restaurant experience, but it’s not every day that a dish presents us with serious health concerns.
Last week, the Calaveras County Public Health Department received a report that a Murphys man pulled a “bloody” Band-Aid out of his mouth after taking a bite of a fish taco at an Angels Camp Mexican food restaurant.
“These kinds of things are rare, though not unheard of,” Calaveras County Health Officer Dr. Dean M. Kelaita told the Enterprise on July 10. “We’re dealing with the person who is concerned about their health, and rightly so, and communicating with other agencies that deal with these kinds of things.”
According to Kelaita, the department recommends the testing of the “source patient” when there is concern of bloodborne pathogen transmission. In situations where there is no source patient to test, the affected individual should be tested for potential infections.
“We’ll help arrange it for him and (make it) convenient for him,” Kelaita said.
Since receiving word of the incident via Public Health, the Calaveras County Environmental Health Department inspected La Hacienda Restaurant, where the incident allegedly occurred.
No health code violations were identified at the establishment, according to Calaveras County Environmental Management Administrator Brad Banner.
“We did our due diligence in getting out there and taking a look at it,” Banner said. “I don’t think there’s anything else we can do right now. We talked to them about the importance of proper safety. We didn’t see any corroborating evidence, but that doesn’t mean we don’t take every complaint very seriously and follow up.”
Rich Lochemes, 70, who claims he pulled the Band-Aid out of his mouth while observing “Taco Tuesday” on July 2 with a friend, said he has not received an apology from the restaurant and is troubled by a “lack of concern.”
“I didn’t want to make a stink and yell and scream in front of everybody, so I asked the waitress to come over quietly,” Lochemes said. “I showed her, and she just didn’t say anything.”
After taking his friend home, who was “too grossed out” to finish her meal, Lochemes said he returned to the restaurant to retrieve the Band-Aid for bloodborne pathogen testing.
“With the blood, I did not know if it had HIV, hepatitis A, B, C, AIDS,” said Lochemes, a self-described cancer survivor and retired health care practitioner. “I just wanted to take it to the health department and have it checked out.”
By the time Lochemes returned to the restaurant, the Band-Aid was gone, he said. He claims the staff and management were “rude” when he requested the Band-Aid and denied that the incident occurred. He said staff presented him with a trash bag to search through; however, Lochemes said there was no sign of his meal or the Band-Aid in the bag.
“I don’t blame anybody, but you’ve got to go through the process. Figuring out your fish supplier, etc.,” Lochemes said.
Since the incident occurred, Lochemes said he had to pay for an HIV test out of his own pocket. He plans to request reimbursement from the restaurant and may choose to take legal action if denied.
His friend posted a review of the restaurant on Yelp, including photos of the Band-Aid. Lochemes said he also filed a report with the Angels Camp Police Department.
Management at La Hacienda Restaurant have not responded to requests for comment.
For those who encounter a health hazard after eating at a restaurant or buying groceries, Kelaita recommends contacting the Public Health Department, the Environmental Health Department and a health care provider right away.
“People who have questions can always call the Public Health Department,” Kelaita said. “That’s what the local Public Health Department is for.”