Probe continues into cause of E. coli infections at eatery

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The Allegheny County Health Department today asked health care providers to test patients with symptoms of an E. coli infection for a strain of the bacteria after five people were sickened after visiting The Porch at Schenley in Oakland.

"The challenge right now is trying to figure out where the source of the infection is," health department director Karen A. Hacker said.

The restaurant, part of the Eat'n Park Hospitality Group, is now using meat from a different vendor, though health department officials said the change was only a precaution.

"At this time we're not saying it was food," health department spokesman Guillermo Cole said today, noting that the investigation into the infection's source continues.

Five Porch employees or customers have been diagnosed with E. coli infections since Oct. 1. Exposures typically result from eating contaminated foods, department officials said.

Four were treated at hospitals but all are recovering, according to the health department.

The strain of E. coli in question, 0157:H7, can cause serious illnesses, department officials said, and symptoms of the disease usually appear three or four days after exposure. They may include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea -- often bloody -- and vomiting.

The restaurant has set up a toll-free hotline to answer any questions from the public and voluntarily closed Tuesday night. The health department said it has been approved to open Thursday.

"They've been extremely helpful in terms of the investigation as well as making sure that everything is done to comply with safety for the restaurant," Dr. Hacker said.

The restaurant is undergoing a "front-to-back cleaning" and will reopen Thursday with fresh foods, Porch spokeswoman Pam Ritz said.

The hotline number is 855-368-8888. The health department asked people with symptoms to call them at 412-687-2243 and their health care providers.

Molly Born: or 412-263-1944. Twitter: @borntolede. Lexi Belculfine contributed. First Published October 30, 2013 2:04 PM

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