Health officials shut down a Casper restaurant last week amid allegations it misled customers about its use of the flavor enhancer MSG, according to documents released Monday.
Although New Chopstix Asian Bistro on CY Avenue advertised itself as MSG free, an inspector found a container with a "large volume" of the ingredient in the restaurant's basement, a copy of her report shows. Health officials performed the inspection on Sept. 17 after a customer with sensitivity to MSG complained he broke out in a rash and blisters.
The Casper-Natrona County Health Department ordered New Chopstix to cease operations on Sept. 21. It also suspended its license.
"It's drastic, and it is not something we do lightly," said health department Director Robert Harrington.
The restaurant's ownership initially indicated it would contest the decision, and the county health board set a hearing for later this week to resolve the matter. However, an attorney representing Dau Ho of Rifle, Colo. -- who's listed as owner on the New Chopstix license -- informed health officials on Monday afternoon his client is withdrawing his challenge, Harrington said.
Attorney Dave Drell also indicated Ho wanted to give up his interest in the restaurant license and that another man, Fa He, wished to apply for it, Harrington added. Pending that change, New Chopstix will remain closed.
Drell did not respond to a message left at his office.
When reached by phone, Ho said he is no longer the owner of New Chopstix. Ho conceded the license was still in his name, but maintained he turned over operations of the restaurant to He in May.
Ho said he wasn't aware of MSG being used in the food.
"I don't know anything about it," he said.
The restaurant was empty on Monday afternoon, and no one answered when a reporter knocked on a window. A handwritten sign on the door said, "We're closed."
He was unavailable for comment.
Health officials received the complaint from a man who said he had extreme MSG sensitivity. The man, who health officials declined to identify, claimed he suffered a rash after eating at New Chopstix.
That prompted the inspector's visit and subsequent discovery of the MSG container. A cook told her the substance, which is often associated with Chinese cooking, was being added to sauces, according to her report.
Some people have reported health problems after eating foods with MSG, but researchers haven't found any definitive evidence linking the two, according to the Mayo Clinic. Still, many Asian restaurants -- including New Chopstix -- make a point of advertising that they don't cook with MSG.
Wyoming food safety law prohibits the mislabeling of food.
The health department did not receive any complaints about New Chopstix before the man reported his problems with MSG, Harrington said.
Health officials also received contradictory information on the ownership at New Chopstix, according to documents provided by the department. They indicate both Ho and He claimed the other man owned the restaurant.
Neither man owns a restaurant named Chopstix on Casper's east side.
Reach reporter Joshua Wolfson at (307) 266-0582 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit tribtown.trib.com/JoshuaWolfson/blog to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson