50-year-old woman dies from salmonella outbreak at Aurora restaurant

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DENVER — A 50-year-old woman died as a result of salmonella poisoning after eating at a restaurant in Aurora in November.

The woman is identified as Denise Castaneda of Westminster, according to the Adams County Coroner’s Office.

Her mother said they ordered take-out carnitas at La California. Soon after, Castaneda started throwing up.

Her mother said Castaneda was hospitalized, had surgery and then she died.

“I’m pretty upset. She died not knowing what she had. I didn’t expect her to die before me. I didn’t get as sick,” Castaneda’s mother said.

Thirty-three people were sickened after they ate at La California at East 17th Avenue and Peoria Street in November. The Tri-County Health Department said the salmonella outbreak killed one person and three others were hospitalized.

The health department said lab tests show the family combination meal might have led to the poisoning. The meal includes ingredients such as meat, beans and cilantro.

But investigators could not pinpoint what started the outbreak.

The health department said the outbreak affected people who ate at the restaurant from Nov. 4-26. Almost all of the people infected experienced diarrhea and abdominal cramping.

La California earned an “F” in the Restaurant Report Card for 30 critical violations in its March 2015 health inspection.

Still, the restaurant remained open.

“We have certain criteria for shutting down a restaurant, and we go on super high alert when we have an outbreak like this,” said John Douglas with the health department.

“We look for certain criteria that indicate that there is an ongoing risk of transmission. We didn’t find an ongoing risk in this circumstance.”

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One woman said several of her family members became ill. She was shocked when she learned why they got so sick.

Alejandra said her 4-year-old daughter was throwing up, had diarrhea and a temperature.

She said she bought a family combo meal at La California on Nov. 12.

"My oldest son started throwing up. They called me from school that I had to go pick him up because he had a lot of pain in his stomach," Alejandra said.

That was the day after they ate the food. By that same afternoon, she said she and her two kids felt awful.

"Temperature, a lot of stomach hurt, throwing up and diarrhea. ... And this started getting worse worse worse," she said.

She took her daughter to a hospital two days later when there were no signs of improvement.

Alejandra's daughter and son both tested positive for salmonella.

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She said the health department called three times. It was "asking questions about where I buy my food, where is the last time we ate at a restaurant."

There were a lot of questions, but Alejandra said she didn't get any answers. She ended up with $1,200 in medical bills.

She said it was a horrible experience made worse when she learned someone died.

"Thank God my daughter didn't die. She's OK now but she could've been one of the ones that died," she said.

The health department said if it didn't reach out to Alejandra to give her information, it said it should have and admits it might handle things differently next time.

The restaurant was open Thursday, but no one would speak about the incident. The restaurant was closed Friday.

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