More than 100 ill with gastroenteritis symptoms at California middle school: ‘It didn’t feel good, it didn’t feel good at all’

According to the Monterey Herald and KION a bunch of students at Los Arboles Middle School spent a bunch of time barfing yesterday. 110 kids had symptoms including nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. Enough kids got sick that school nurses called in the health department and fire department as back-up.

To say Los Arboles Middle School student Paradise Williams had a rough morning is an understatement.
"It didn’t feel good, it didn’t feel good at all," says Williams.

The sixth grader was in math class Thursday morning when she felt dizzy, got cramps and started throwing up. The school got so many other students with the same symptoms, it set up a makeshift clinic with nurses in the school’s gym. When Paradise rushed there, 30 other students were already there.

"At the time it was bad," says Williams. "Everyone was around trash cans throwing up holding their stomachs, crying, throwing up, drinking water, throwing up the water."

The amateur epidemiologists cited in the story are guessing that a bad batch of out of date rice is to blame (not so sure on that one -ben).

By the afternoon, that number grew to 110 students. The Monterey County Health Department is investigating what caused the stomach flu. But, several students including Paradise suspect bad rice was served for breakfast at the nearby teen center. That angers Paradise’s mother.

"Are they looking on the dates of their food? Are they taking inventory on the dates? I don’t want this to happen again," says Williams.

But, the school district isn’t confirming that and called today’s sickness "rare."

Rare probably isn’t the right word to use here – acute and messy is probably better – and likely provides little comfort to the barfing tweens and their families. The school folks should be talking about their food safety risk-reduction systems (USDA requires a HACCP-based program for school meals provided under their nutrition program) and the type of stuff they have in place to limit spread (like hand soap in the restrooms).

Thanks to a sharp-eyed barfblog contributor for the tip.

Fewer food violations in school cafeterias

Cafeteria food inspections tend to have fewer critical violations than let’s say your full scale service restaurant due to minimal food preparation involved. Everything is essentially pre-packaged and heated in a microwave prior to service or deep fried for the non health-conscience consumer. As such, cafeteria food operators need to pay attention to effective hand washing as well as verifying internal cooking temperatures of what actually goes in the microwave. Food products that are generally cooked in the microwave are initially frozen and thus may not achieve the desired temperature that will inactivate food borne pathogens and keep you from barfing.
I thought this article was interesting as I just returned from the Twin Cities from a fantastic concert (Jonsi).
The Duluth News Tribune reports
Inspections of school cafeterias turn up far fewer problems than inspections of restaurants and convenience stores, say the people who probe the pantries, refrigerators and sinks of local schools.
Government inspection reports of several area school districts for the past three years showed only a few incidents that would make you say: “Ewww.”
Reasons for violations include: expired freshness dates for products, dented cans, rotten vegetables, a lack of hand-washing or glove changes between tasks, thawing and refreezing pizza, water not hot enough and milk not cold enough.
“Typically, schools are pretty good inspections for us,” said Brian Becker, an environmental health specialist with the Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services. “They are well-trained, maintained; they’ve had their staff for a while. Oftentimes in other industries in food, you’ll see a higher turnover.”
School cafeterias must be inspected twice a year. Most schools this year had low numbers of critical violations — those that can lead directly to food-borne illnesses — or none at all. Non-critical violations — of which there were higher numbers — don’t directly cause illness; they often relate to equipment or flooring. But even they can lead to food-borne illness.
Improper hand-washing is the practice most potentially harmful to the health of students in cafeterias, said Ryan Trenberth, supervisor of the Duluth District Office of the Minnesota Department of Health, which has taken over for St. Louis County inspections.
“We’re finding that’s how most viruses get spread,” he said. “Sick employees … not hand-washing, or cross-contamination going from a raw product to a ready-to-eat product.”
Neither inspector could remember any food-borne illnesses spread in school cafeterias in Douglas or St. Louis counties.