Restaurant says it’s not to blame for food poisoning

The owner of Merle's Barbecue says the restaurant isn't to blame for an outbreak of illness among people at a parent-teacher conference at Haven Middle School in Evanston last month.

Merle's owner Larry Huber says the city "made a rush to judgment and recklessly issued a press release naming Merle’s as the cause of a food borne illness outbreak without one, single shred of documentation or evidence. In fact, they issued the release before test results were available and the investigation was even concluded.”

Huber says results of tests of food taken directly from Merle's showed no indication of food-borne illness.

He says the restaurant followed required procedures for preparing the food and marking it with the time that it was prepared.

He adds that, contrary to the city's claim, Merle's did not cater the school event, but merely delivered food there. After that, he says, responsibility for the handling the food was up to the school — and the food was left sitting out at room temperature for four hours.

If it had been a fully catered event, Huber added, " we would have had the appropriate staff and equipment to maintain the presentation and quality.“

He says the same food delivered to Haven Middle School was also served that evening to customers
dining at Merle’s and that the restaurant received no calls, emails, or any report of any illness, complaint, or negative effects.

Huber says he and other restaurant staffers repeatedly called the health department for information about their investigation, only to be told the results were inconclusive — even after the city had sent out its news release.

“We have been a part of this community for many, many years. To be falsely accused, tried and convicted
in front of our families, friends and neighbors has been devastating. I wouldn't wish this upon anybody,”
Huber says.

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