Eleven 13-year-olds went out to a birthday lunch and wound up being rushed to the hospital after an apparent food poisoning sickened more than two dozen people, according to New York health officials.
But the culprit doesn’t appear to be raw fish or any other type of meat, according to the birthday girl’s mother.
“The common denominator seemed to be the rice,” Arial Arias told Fox News Digital on Monday. The girls ordered different meals — chicken, beef, vegetables — but they all came with rice.
The unsettling scene left victims “projectile vomiting” inside and outside the Kumo Sushi and Steakhouse, a popular Long Island restaurant near Stony Brook University, according to witnesses.
Arias and other parents left the kids to themselves at a table and sat at the bar, where no one got sick, despite ordering seafood.
“We didn’t get sick from the sushi — they all got sick from the hibachi,” she said. “It was like the opposite of what you would have thought.”
Now Arias’ daughter and 10 friends, all on the same competitive dance team, are suffering from anxiety and lingering stomach pain and worried about whether they’ll be able to make their next competition, she said. They sat down to eat around 2 p.m. and were all sick before 4 p.m., she said.
The birthday girl initially wanted to bring her friends to a nearby Italian restaurant, Arias said.
“I said, ‘Oh, Kumo, it’s more of an experience,'” she said of the hibachi-style Kumo Sushi and Steakhouse, where the family has dined many times before. “It’s so much more fun. I kind of forced her into it — so I have so much guilt that she didn’t even want to do it there. And this happened.
In addition to the teens, more than a dozen people at another table also grew ill, county health officials said. The other party included a pregnant woman and another who appeared to be in her 90s, Arias said.
“It was one other group that was there before us — they were vomiting first in the bathroom,” Arias said. “So the girls were telling me they thought that, the lady, [who] was vomiting all over, had a stomach virus, and the girls were getting nervous.”
In all, 12 people were taken to the nearby hospital and 28 reported various symptoms, according to News 12 Long Island. Suffolk County health officials cited the restaurant for 15 alleged violations.
The county executive’s office did not immediately respond to questions from Fox News Digital.
Arias said health investigators told her the restaurant’s refrigerator may have been damaged. The investigation remains ongoing and authorities were still conducting interviews Monday, she said.
A person who answered the phone at Kumo Monday told Fox News Digital that the owner was not available and that the restaurant was deferring to a lawyer for comment. The lawyer did not immediately respond to a call.
In a statement, owners Tony and Bobby Lam thanked first responders and health officials and said they were working “diligently” attempting to regain their customers’ faith.
“At Kumo restaurant, we consider our patrons an extension of our family, and your wellbeing remains our top priority,” they said. “We are committed to learning from this incident, enhancing our practices, and ensuring that every visit to Kumo is not just a meal but a memorable and safe experience.”
Jory Lange, a national attorney for food poisoning victims whose office has opened its own investigation into the case, told Fox News Digital that the rapid onset of symptoms, coupled with the possibility that all the victims ate rice in particular, is a clue toward the type of bacteria that likely sickened the guests.
“That really, really short timeframe, less than an hour, combined with the fact that the health department is concerned about how cooked rice was stored, really point towards a bug called bacillus cereus,” he said.
The bacteria is common in uncooked rice but remains in a harmless state until the rice is cooked and then left out at room temperatures, he said. If cooked rice is left at room temperature, the bacillus cereus spores begin to release toxins that can cause food poisoning, he said.
Anyone who is experiencing food poisoning symptoms should get checked out by a doctor, he said, and victims may be entitled to legal claims for expenses like medical bills and lost wages.
“Food poisoning in a restaurant is always a completely preventable thing,” he said. “It doesn’t just happen. It happens when someone does something wrong.”
As for the teens, they are “on the mend” but exhausted after the experience, Arias said Monday.
“My daughter still will not eat,” she said. “She doesn’t want to go out to eat after this… It was very traumatic.”
Next year, she said, maybe she’ll cook at home.