Nearly 100 people have gotten food poisoning after eating at the same barbecue restaurant in North Carolina. Health officials are investigating the outbreak. Creative Commons

Nearly 100 people have become ill after eating at a barbecue restaurant along Highway 64 in North Carolina -- with at least seven of them hospitalized -- in an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness. The bacteria salmonella is suspected, although health officials are continuing to investigate the cause.

Dozens of recent visitors to Tarheel Q Restaurant -- some hailing from as far away as Pennsylvania -- have reported diarrhea, stomach pain, fever, nausea and vomiting, all of which are symptoms consistent with food poisoning from salmonella. The health department for North Carolina’s Davidson County, where the restaurant is located, has opened a phone hotline so people can report cases of illness.

“We are still investigating to determine the source (or sources) of infection,” Monecia Thomas, health department director for Davidson County said, Food Safety News reported. “We are also actively working with restaurant management to resolve this as soon as possible.”

The owners of Tarheel Q closed its doors Wednesday “in an effort to regain our customers’ trust,” local news channel WFMY reported. It said it would reopen Monday, June 29. The restaurant has been cited multiple times in recent years for failing to keep food at the right temperature. Leftover food would be left to cool off and subsequently reheated, Tarheel Q’s owner, Trey Payne, said.

But Payne also said that now, that procedure would change. "We are going to keep it hot so that the temperature does not go down and then go back up, which can cause bacteria to grow," he added.

Cases in this outbreak could date as far back as June 6. Local and state health departments have yet to require Tarheel Q to close down. Salmonella are bacteria transmitted through tainted food or water and are often found in poultry and dairy products. The bacteria can be killed through cooking and pasteurization.