New Food Safety Infosheet: 125 illnesses linked to church fundraiser

Community gatherings around food awaken nostalgic feelings of the rural past — times when an entire town would get together monthly, eat, enjoy company and work together. And also, as Rob Tauxe says in an article about new trends in foodborne pathogens, have created some of the easily traced foodborne illness outbreaks:

The traditional foodborne outbreak scenario often follows a church supper, family picnic, wedding reception, or other social event. This scenario involves an acute and highly local outbreak, with a high inoculum dose and a high attack rate. The outbreak is typically immediately apparent to those in the local group, who promptly involve medical and public health authorities. The investigation identifies a food-handling error in a small kitchen that occurs shortly before consumption. The solution is also local.

In 1997, two elderly people died, more than 100 made a trip to the emergency room, and 700 more reported feeling ill after an annual church dinner of stuffed ham, turkey and fried oysters at Our Lady of the Wayside Parish in Chaptico, Md., population 100. Tests showed that Salmonella in the ham likely caused the illnesses.

In September 2004, near Buffalo, N.Y., 28 confirmed cases of salmonella infection were reported following an annual community roast-beef dinner. Volunteers were not trained in food service and "didn’t quite understand the importance of maintaining a hot or cold temperature," investigators said.

The nasty bugs that cause foodborne illness don’t distinguish between commercial and charitable food operations.

The newest food safety infosheet focuses on a recent outbreak of Salmonellosis linked to a church fundraiser in Conway, SC. It’s not entirely clear what factors led to the outbreak, but what is apparent is that over 125 of the 1,500 participants had were left with foodborne illness symptoms including abdominal cramping, diarrhea and vomiting after their BBQ plates were consumed. Fourteen individuals were hospitalized.

To download this week’s infosheet, click here.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.