Health department report: Bean Day illnesses linked to poor risk management

An investigation into a Salmonella outbreak points to multiple potential risk factors associated with a fundraiser. According to the Alabama Department of Health, 8 confirmed and up to 50 suspected cases of salmonellosis were linked to a community event – Bean Day – in Athens, AL.  beans-thumb-500x404

The News Courier reports that organizers and volunteer food handlers made multiple risky decisions that likely led to the illnesses. Amongst the weirdest was a using a horse trough covered with plywood to soak beans that were then added to a bean soup.

Early on, public health officials determined that the beans were likely the source of the outbreak of salmonella senftenberg, but they did not know how the infection occurred.

Interviews with food preparers identified “several opportunities for cross-contamination and improper holding temperatures,” according to the report. Among them:

1.) Soaking the beans in a plastic-lined horse trough covered with plywood, with a water hose running water through the trough (the ADPH did not know if or how the trough, which was located at the church, had been used prior to the dinner)2.) Handling food without gloves;3.) Turning off the heat source for the beans and disconnecting gas lines for burners without monitoring the temperature of the food;4.) Transferring the beans in outside cooking pots to a smaller iron pot on wheels to take large quantities of the beans inside the church;5.) Using one sterno can per 6-inch-deep chaffing pan to maintain the holding temperature of the beans;
6.) Re-using chaffing pans and adding new beans to existing beans throughout the serving time.

The final report said investigators studied 14 food samples (boxed plates left over from the event), 30 environmental samples and from 13 stool specimens from those who fell ill.

Salmonella senftenberg was isolated “in two environmental samples obtained from the church, nine food samples and all stool specimens,” according to the report. “The two positive environmental samples were from environment swabs of a dirty strainer and the double sink floor drain at the church.”

Sounds like there wasn’t a lot of hazard identification or risk management going on – which can often be the case when amateur food handlers are placed into a situation where they are asked to make food for 300.

Handling food without gloves was noted as a factor, but as friend of barfblog Don Schaffner points out on Twitter, with all the other temperature and sanitation problems it probably doesn’t rank as #2 on the list.

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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.