Keep using those fancy cell phones and social media to hold people accountable.
According to The Tico Times, Nelly Campos joined three of her friends for a meal at Café Mundo on March 22. After having some appetizers at a cocktail reception, she ordered a light meal of bruschetta topped with tomato, cheese and basil. She finished her meal with a portion of sugary pecan pie.
The following night Campos and her friends all experienced symptoms of food poisoning: vomiting, diarrhea, body aches and dehydration. One of the women, Francella Conejo, ended up in the hospital.
Two weeks later, the Health Ministry shuttered Café Mundo, citing unsanitary conditions. A health report released by the ministry remarked on various health code violations found on the morning of April 5.
Inspectors observed surfaces that were neither washed nor disinfected, cleaning solutions were placed near the liquors, uncooked meat settled next to vegetables in the kitchen. The restaurant was undergoing remodeling but no separation existed between the construction area and the kitchen. Dust coated the walls, floors and tables in the kitchen.
“The food was tasty,” Conejo said. “There’s no way we could’ve imagined the level of problems that existed [in the kitchen].”
The reports of food poisoning at Café Mundo seemed to occur over a three-week period beginning in mid-March. But the decision to close the popular San José restaurant in Barrio Otoya didn’t occur until early April. Instead Campos and others, with the help of social network Facebook, gathered the names of food poisoning victims at Café Mundo and encouraged them to create an uproar.
In the end, the Health Ministry received 25 to 35 “denuncias,” or complaints.
Each complaint represented one member of a family or a dinner with friends or business gathering that had been affected by the restaurant’s food.
On March 31, Cristy Valdés had a friend post her criticism about Café Mundo on the Facebook page of Health Minister María Avila. Valdés began her message by saying, “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or whether to denounce Café Mundo or the Health Ministry.” She went on to explain that after the incident occurred, Valdés spent three days calling the Health Ministry trying to file a complaint. Once she explained what happened, Valdés said she was told that four denuncias weren’t enough to lead to an inspection. On Facebook though, the complaints found an audience.
Valdés learned from one commenter that another woman named Nelly Campos was putting together a list of those afflicted by a meal at Café Mundo. They worked together to find people who alleged food poisoning from an unsanitary meal. Valdés also continued to call Café Mundo, only to have the people working the phone deny that customers had called about any grievances with the food.
As Valdés built up her list, a member of the Health Ministry started noticing the outcry on Facebook over Café Mundo.
On April 6, 2011 health inspectors dropped by Café Mundo, saw numerous violations and shut down the prominent tourist dining spot.
The networking done by Valdés, Campos and others had compelled the government to take action.
Reached by phone Thursday, Café Mundo’s owner Diego Meléndez said the restaurant plans to reopen during the first week of May. He contradicted some of the claims made in the Health Ministry's report, saying there was a plastic barrier separating the parts of the kitchen under construction. Although concerned, Meléndez said he decided to keep the restaurant open since only 0.04 percent of his customers were reporting an illness. And when Café Mundo finally did close, Meléndez said it was his decision after he invited a health administrator to investigate the problems.
The owner also cast doubt that his clients were actually sickened by food poisoning, adding that doctors told him there's been a stomach flu epidemic in the country.