Ottawa Lunch Lady to reopen after sickening 54 with Salmonella, mainly kids

The Lunch Lady will resume serving meals to Ottawa schools beginning Monday.

The Ottawa Citizen reports the caterer has been closed for more than two weeks after it was discovered that some meals had been contaminated with salmonella. At least 49 children and five adults had lab-confirmed cases of the stomach bug related to the outbreak, according to the City of Ottawa public health department.

Jonathan Morris, the owner of two Lunch Lady franchises, said since voluntarily shutting down, they’ve undergone new testing procedures at their kitchens and redistributed some of the staff duties. He said the kitchens have been thoroughly sterilized and much of the food has been thrown out.

"This problem was rooted in an individual who made a mistake," said Morris, adding that the staff member has since been let go. He said the fired employee made a "mistake" in the preparation that led to the contamination of the food.

"The beef we received already had salmonella in it, but if the beef had been properly handled it wouldn’t have been issued," he said.

Morris said he feels "bad" that so many children and adults became ill from the food that was sent out to the schools.

But not bad enough to offer a full accounting of what the mistake was.

Morris is offering a variation of the trust us PR approach that usually fails. If one of my kids got sick, or if I was faced with choosing a school meal, I would want to know exactly what went wrong and exactly what has been changed so it wouldn’t happen again. Were the kitchens using meat thermometers to ensure safe temperatures had been reached? What kind of meat storage and prep procedures were followed to minimize cross-contamination? What handwashing procedures are in place and is there any verification such procedures are followed? Basic questions that the Lunch Lady and franchisee Morris seem unwilling to answer.

"My business will survive, but it’s not about me, it’s about those kids," added Morris, who has owned the business for five years. He has a staff of about 25 employees.

Maybe it’s a Canadian thing. Like the 2008 Maple Leaf listeria outbreak, the boss is saying the correct caring things, but that’s of little comfort to those who got sick. Communication needs to be supported with data. People aren’t dumb: explain what happened and what corrective actions are being taken so your commitment to food safety can be accurately assessed, or maybe your business won’t survive.