Ethiopian food vendor at Santa Fe festival thought to be source of illnesses

I’m in Providence for the International Association for Food Protection’s annual meeting. It’s sort of like Comicon for the food safety nerds. I left for the conference yesterday and missed out on my neighborhood’s yearly block party. Dani told me that there was a bunch of great side dishes and a 130lb pig that was slow cooked overnight. And not a lot of temperature control.

Festivals, community dinners and temporary events have had their share of outbreaks  (Taste of Chicago in 2007, Folklorama in 2010 and numerous fundraisers and community dinners). With community dinners there usually a bunch of well-meaning folks who may not always know or follow best practices.

Often at festivals and other events there are folks at booths who are not full-time food handlers, dealing with lineups, makeshift heat sources and poor access to handwashing facilities. Sometimes folks get sick as a result.

According The New Mexican, health officials are investigating a cluster of illnesses associated with eating at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

Department of Health epidemiologist Joan Baumach said Thursday that the department has received reports of stomach illness from about 11 people, all of whom said they ate at the market. Baumach said Health Department staff are trying to determine if the illness was caused by a bacteria or virus while the Environment Department is trying to pinpoint the source.

Market organizers and several of those affected have said the sickness — the symptoms of which are diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever — is thought to have come from the Almaz Ethiopian Kitchen food booth.

“This booth was inspected,” said the market’s executive director, Charlene Cerny. “And [an employee] said he ate the thing that made people sick in the morning, so we are trying to figure out what happened. It’s really, sadly enough, a labor of love for the owner [Almaz Tesffimichal]. This is the only event she does all year.”

Frank Fiore, acting chief of the Environment Department Health Bureau, said all 23 of the booths that sold food or drinks at the market were inspected Saturday morning before the market opened.

A copy of the inspection report related to the Ethiopian Kitchen shows no violations. In fact, the sheet notes that the temperatures of the food at that time were all above 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which, Fiore said, most pathogens die. The sheet did contain the note “test strips needed.”

Baumach said her staff is analyzing stool samples and conducting laboratory tests for things such as salmonella or e.coli. The results of those tests should be ready in a day or two, she said."

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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.