Firefly, closed over salmonella poisonings, has had health lapses in past

Firefly Tapas Kitchen & Bar on Paradise Road sits closed Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

A popular Las Vegas tapas restaurant that closed last week after a supposed salmonella outbreak had received fluctuating health-inspection grades over the years.

Firefly Tapas Kitchen & Bar on Paradise Road was shut down Friday by Southern Nevada Health District officials after 39 patrons reported food poisoning symptoms, with at least 10 of them saying they sought medical attention.

A number of patients tested positive for salmonella, district spokeswoman Stephanie Bethel said on Tuesday. She could not confirm how many people had the bacteria but said there were “enough” to make health officials comfortable blaming the outbreak on it.

The source of the salmonella, which can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, is unclear. Raw food including chicken and cucumbers can cause an outbreak.

Firefly could reopen at some point but, among other things, would have to be reinspected and receive an “A” letter grade from the health district, Bethel said. An investigation into the outbreak is ongoing.

District officials last week slapped the restaurant with several code violations. According to the agency, Firefly violated requirements to have effective pest control measures; to protect food from potential chemical contamination; to have “wholesome” food that is not spoiled, contaminated or adulterated; and to have hot and cold holding equipment that is on site and properly designed, maintained and operated.

In a statement Tuesday, Firefly owner John Simmons said he has not received any official notification from the health district about the purported salmonella outbreak, but he is pleased that the investigation is moving ahead.

“We continue to work closely with officials as we, too, are anxious to find the cause and make this right,” he said.

The restaurant had 17 routine inspections from the health district from January 2004 to April 2012 and received mixed results, agency records show. It received a “C” letter grade three times, a “B” three times and an “A” 10 times. One inspection, on July 17, 2011, prompted the health district to close the restaurant, which reopened the next day with an “A” rating.

Restaurant spokeswoman Michele Voelkening said management had to shut off the water to fix a broken pipe in the grease trap, so they were forced to close the restaurant as well during the repair efforts.

Asked why Firefly received B and C ratings in prior years, she said the restaurant has "experienced exponential growth since its opening. Although growth can cause challenges, it has forced us to get better."

"As our business has increased, it has required us to make changes and making those adjustments are reflected in some of our" lower ratings, she said in an email, without providing details.