Owner of French bar at centre of lethal botulism outbreak 'takes responsibility'

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Owner Of French Bar At Centre Of Lethal Botulism Outbreak 'Takes Responsibility'
A lawyer for a French wine bar owner where tourists ate contaminated sardines infected with botulism resulting in the death of one woman and hospitalisation of several others has said his client takes “responsibility” for what has occurred.
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Sarah Slater

A lawyer for a French wine bar owner where tourists ate contaminated sardines infected with botulism resulting in the death of one woman and hospitalisation of several others has said his client takes “responsibility” for what has occurred.

The public prosecutor's office in Bordeaux has officially opened a preliminary investigation as up to 25 people, some of whom were Irish rugby fans, are understood to have been infected with the rare infection after eating at Tchin Tchin Wine Bar, on Rue Emile Duployé Bordeaux in the old town of the southwest city.

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Scientific analyses results released on Friday evening have confirmed the presence of type B botulism in the incriminated dish of sardine tapas and in the blood of several victims.

A 30-year-old Mayo man who was in Bordeaux for the starting game of Ireland’s Pool B matches in the Rugby World Cup tournament against Romania on September 9th has been in a Paris hospital intensive care unit for the past several days.

His Greek wife (32) of four months died last Tuesday after consuming the same sardines following visits to two hospitals after she complained of feeling unwell. Several other Irish rugby fans complained of becoming unwell.

Bordeaux public prosecutor's office is investigating the owners of the bar for alleged involuntary manslaughter, involuntary injuries, sale of corrupt or toxic foodstuffs. The botulism cases came to light on Saturday night, September 9th - the night following Ireland’s win over Romania.

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Those who have become ill ate at the premises between September 4th and 10th.

Stéphane Guitard, the lawyer who is acting on behalf of the bar owner said his client “will assume responsibility and remains available to investigators".

Mr Guitard revealed that his client is “distressed” and has worked all week with the Departmental Offices for the Protection of Populations (DDPP) to find the customers who consumed the canned sardines.

All of the patrons who became ill ate at the premises between September 4th and 10th last.

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French reports say that Mr Guitard has described his client as feeling “defeated”.

“He heard about (the) opening of an investigation. I explained to him how it worked. He doesn't think about himself. I explained to him that there are a lot of issues, but it is not his priority. His priority is to ensure that there are no other patients, that those who are hospitalised return to their previous lives, and he is of course thinking of the family who lost a 32-year-old loved one,” Mr Guitard said in the Sud Ouest newspaper.

He continued: “That’s the only thing that interests him. All last week, he spent his days with the DDPP in his establishment. They spent hours trying to find people who stopped by his house tasting wine. He collaborated without reservation. He is physically exhausted.”

Mr Guitard said that certain questions “haunt” him. “Should he have thrown away all the sterilised jars at once? Should he have cooked his sardines longer, at a higher temperature? Unless the problem comes from the rubber, (on the serving jars) although (they were) new,” he continued.

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Hygeine rules

According to Mr Guitard, “it is too early” to talk about non-compliance with hygiene rules. The lawyer concluded by saying that he and his client “are awaiting the conclusions of the experts".

The emergency room at Pellegrin hospital in Bordeaux saw the very first cases of botulism arrive on September 9th. A serious and fatal neurological condition in 5 to 10 percent of cases.

The Bordeaux public prosecutor's office has confirmed that they have opened an official "preliminary investigation into the charges of unintentional injuries, involuntary homicide, placing harmful foodstuffs on the market and sale of corrupt or toxic foodstuffs,” according to French media reports.

Public Health France announced that the bacteria in question was found in the sardine dish.

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The results from the Pasteur Institute confirmed the presence of type B botulism meaning that the contamination could have come either from "a condiment linked to the preparation of the sardine dish”, or from external handling, such as “dirty hands which would have touched the preparation of the dish”.

Samples

Although all of the samples have not yet been analysed, the match between the dish and the victims has been established.

Eleven people are still hospitalised with eight in France. The Mayo man is in Paris, while seven others are at the Bordeaux University Hospital, six of whom are in intensive care and one in continuing care. Their conditions are described as “stable” by authorities. Another three people are hospitalised in Spain and two in England.

The joint investigation involves the zonal directorate of the judicial police for the South-West, the Central Office for the fight against attacks on the environment and public health (Oclaesp) and the (DDPP) of Gironde.

The owners are facing a jail term of between three to five years and fines of between €45,000 to €60,000.

An autopsy has been carried out on the young woman who died and results will be known early this week.

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