Attorney: 100 customers claim they were sickened by foodborne parasite

I-TEAM: Cooper's Hawk sets up hotline for those who think they've been infected

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The number of people who claim to have gotten sick after eating at a popular restaurant on Jacksonville's Southside continues to grow.

Attorney Shawn DeVries told the I-TEAM on Thursday that 100 customers now claim they got food poisoning after eating at Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant.

DeVries and attorney Brian Lee have been investigating the circumstances since learning that members of the Exchange Club were sickened after a June banquet at the eatery, which is located at the Markets at Town Center.

Since the I-TEAM began reporting, the initial number of 22 cases climbed to about 100.

Customers claim they’ve contracted a parasite called Cyclospora.

Many had no idea they were fighting the parasite until they connected the symptoms and their visit to the Town Center restaurant.

Fact sheet from CDC

The Duval County Health Department is investigating, but a spokeswoman would not confirm any details. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also did not respond to a request for comment.

VIEW: Cyclosporiasis (Cyclospora infection) fact sheet from the CDC |
RELATED RESOURCE: What is Cyclospora?

On Wednesday afternoon, a Cooper’s Hawk executive sent a statement, which said managers self-reported the incidents to the Health Department once they started getting calls from sick customers.

The affected time period was June 11 to June 15, according to the statement, which you can read in its entirety below. The executive also said everything was sanitized and the food was disposed of.

The menu item or ingredient that caused the illnesses has not been released.

Ryan Osterholm, an attorney based in Minneapolis, has been retained by several customers. Osterholm is nationally well known in foodborne illness cases.

In an e-mail to the I-TEAM, he said, “It’s very important (people) get tested and get on a very specific antibiotic (Bactrim). Other more common antibiotics do not help … A lot of people are suffering here.  The case count will undoubtedly go way up.”

Cooper’s Hawk has set up a hotline for those who think they’ve been infected. The number is 844-944-1444.

Below is the entire statement from Cooper's Hawk:

"Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant is committed to the health and safety of our Guest, our Staff, and our Community. We began receiving calls late Friday on June 21st from a few guests complaining of illness.  First thing the following morning, we notified the Health Department. Through the County Health Department’s investigative process, the illness appears to be linked to Cyclospora. Cyclospora typically comes from a fresh produce food item purchased through a 3rd party supplier. Unfortunately, food grade produce washes do not kill Cyclospora and they are not visible to the naked eye. We have removed the product and changed suppliers for the ingredient in question. 

"Illnesses are limited to a portion of Guests and some Employees who ate during the period of June 11th - 15th.  This matter is currently being investigated by the local county Health Department & local Health Authorities to support tracing the source of the food items. Those who participated in the investigation have played a valuable part in collecting the data needed to identify the source. 

"The Restaurant was free from any ongoing exposure or risk by the time the first Guest call was received as all fresh food products are typically consumed or disposed within a two to five-day period. 

"Cooper’s Hawk continues to work closely with the Health Department to follow all necessary protocols while upholding our commitment to the highest health and food safety standards in our restaurants. Cooper’s Hawk is also encouraging guests and the public who may have questions or concerns to reach out to our food safety/customer care line at 844-944-1444."

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