Ensure that ‘the bread we break is safe to share’

Lisa Abraham of the Columbus Dispatch writes in a column about the tragic potluck dinner at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church that social aspects and community building of potluck dinners are important – but safety should rise above fellowship.

People often ask me why I prefer to write about food.breaking-bread_650x366

My answer is always the same: Food unites us.

It is our common denominator; we all need nourishment.

They were “breaking bread together,” church pastor Bill Pitts recently told The Dispatch.
Many of us have taken part in similar events.

The end-of-the-year potluck is the highlight of the gatherings of my church book club. I look forward to trying the different dishes that club members bring, and we convince one another that it’s rude not to sample every dessert (wouldn’t want to offend the person who made it).

I have a few friends who are squeamish about eating at potlucks; they worry about the conditions under which the food was prepared.

I understand their concerns, and the Lancaster case certainly gives them credence.
Instead of making us more wary of others’ food, though, I hope that the incident makes us more cautious when preparing food.

I thought about the jars of home-canned jelly, relish and other foods that friends have shared with me through the years. As long as the seal was tight, I didn’t ask about the canning method used.

Let’s learn a lesson from Lancaster — by ensuring that the bread we break is safe to share.

19 illnesses in Alabama linked to church meal

Community dinners, the fellowship-fostering events often organized by churches are a nostalgic link to the past when a congregation would financially support members’ activities through chili, pancakes or barbecue. They also, according to CDC’s Rob Tauxe, have created some of the easily traced foodborne illness outbreaks. Like this 2013 outbreak in North Carolina.

And it looks like something really bad happened recently at a Morgan County, Alabama church dinner. According to WAFF, at least 19 illnesses including a death are being investigated. The affected folks ate a catered chicken meal at an unnamed church. Screen-Shot-2013-10-02-at-10.36.50-AM-232x300

The State Health Department is investigating a potential foodborne outbreak in Morgan County. One person is confirmed dead. There are currently two confirmed cases.

There has been 19 reports of gastro-intestinal illnesses at three local hospitals. So far, two of those have tested positive for E. coli, Salmonella, or both, and the person who died had E. coli poisoning.

An epidemiologist with the Alabama Department of Public Health, Doctor Mary McIntyre, said they are looking for a common source, and they need to test more specimens. There is one common thread with several of the patients who had gastro-intestinal illnesses, and that’s that several of them ate a catered chicken meal at a church in Morgan County on May 30.

The health department wants us to tell anyone who has been asked by them to provide a specimen to please consider it, because they are having a tough time getting the number they need for testing.

There is one common thread with several of the patients who had gastro-intestinal illnesses, and that’s that several of them ate a catered chicken meal at a church in Morgan County on May 30.

Sorta odd that two pathogens are involved in the same event. A list of outbreaks linked to community dinners and temporary events can be found here.

Shelby NC church dinner outbreak report says source unclear

Fingering the source of an outbreak is tough. Sometimes the epidemiology is messy and the data doesn’t correlate specific foods to illnesses. In a week where the food safety world lost Bill Keene, a pioneer of solving outbreaks, a cluster of salmonellosis illnesses linked to a church dinner in Shelby, NC goes unsolved.full_4379

According to the Shelby Star, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health has released a report detailing the investigation of 104 illnesses associated with eating at fundraiser for Sandy Plains Church.

“Given the limited nature of the menu at this event, these findings are not surprising,” officials said in the health report. “Most barbecue patrons who were interviewed ate a majority, if not all, of the available food items except desserts.”

A study of 165 people who attended the event—both ill and not ill—was conducted by the NC Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public Health. Out of that study, 104 cases met the definition of experiencing diarrhea within seven days of consuming food or drinks from the barbecue event.

“The PFGE pattern of these outbreak strains had only been seen on two other occasions outside of North Carolina, indicating that the source of the outbreak was something at the Sandy Plains barbecue and not a contaminated product from a different source,” the report reads.

At least 27 sick with Salmonella from beans at church fundraiser

White beans were the source of a salmonella outbreak from the annual Bean Day fundraiser sponsored by the Athens-Limestone Foundation on Aging at First Baptist Church in Athens, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

“We have confirmed there was salmonella in the patients’ specimen and in the beans,” said Kelly Stevens, director of epidemiology for the state athens.alabama.salm_.bean_.oct_.13-300x214Health Department.

Stevens said her department is conducting more tests, and a final report will be complete in four to six weeks. Danny Yocom, director of labs at the Athens hospital, said Tuesday that 50 people associated with the outbreak came to the hospital’s emergency room, and 13 were admitted. Yocom said 27 patients had cultures that showed the salmonella bacteria. “We didn’t do cultures on every patient who came to the ER with the symptoms,” Yocom said. “And, of course, many more with the symptoms never came to the hospital.” Stevens said the state is not doing a case count. The investigation is centered on cause and circumstances, she said.

The Bean Day fundraiser, which annually draws between 400 and 500 people, has been held about 15 years. Athens Fire and Rescue held the fundraiser until 2010, and then the foundation took over. The $6 plates included white beans, slaw, corn bread, onions and a homemade dessert. Stevens said questionnaires have been given and collected from cooks, servers, volunteers and customers, including those who were sick and those who were not. She said several food plates were collected, and they were found with colonies of bacteria. “Many of the plates were eaten at the fundraiser,” Stevens said. “But a lot of the plates were delivered, and some were eaten a day later. All of these are issues that we are looking at.” Stevens said they are trying to answer questions such as whether there was cross- contamination in a container or from a counter or if a food handler might have been sick.

Jackie Jackson, outgoing chairwoman of the Foundation on Aging, declined comment.

209 sick from church dinner; C. perfringens in roast beef and gravy; improper holding temps to blame

There’s been a rash of Clostridium perfringens foodborne outbreaks in the past few months. A catered function in Las Vegas, catered tacos at a high school basketball game in South Dakota, even health officials were sickened by a catered meal in Colorado.

A recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that foodborne illness outbreaks resulting from Clostridium perfringens were often large and caused substantial morbidity from 1998 to 2008.

According to the researchers, C perfringens is estimated to be the third most common cause of foodborne illness in the United States, causing 1 million illnesses each year.

So it’s not surprising that C. perfringens was found in the roast beef and gravy that was served at a church dinner in Prince Edward Island two weeks ago, sickening at least 209.

The Chief Public Health Office continues to investigate the outbreak of food-borne illness related to the roast beef dinner prepared by volunteers of the Princetown United Church on Saturday, April 28.

Those preparing meals for church suppers or sale of food at any public event are reminded of the importance of reviewing and adhering to proper food preparation, handling and temperature control requirements.

C. perfringens outbreaks are often the result of improperly cooled food or food held at room temperature for extended periods. That was certainly on my mind as I took the remnants of Sunday’s pork leg roast and turned it into pulled pork with beans and bread, all made from scratch, for dinner Tuesday night. I ensured the temperature didn’t drop below 140F by monitoring hourly with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer, and refrigerated leftovers as soon as dinner was dine.

I also avoid potlucks.

Probably the roast beef prepared at home not licensed facility; 205 sick from PEI church dinner

There are now 205 illnesses from a church dinner in Prince Edward Island, up from 160.

The Chief Public Health Office began investigating a potential gastrointestinal outbreak Monday after notification that several people became ill after consuming a roast beef dinner prepared by volunteers as part of a fundraiser for Princetown United Church on Saturday, April 28, 2012.

Information obtained by interviewing persons who purchased the meal indicates that the roast beef was the most likely source of the food-borne illness. Those who picked up their meal early in the afternoon were less likely to have become ill. Food testing is being conducted and it is expected to be several days before all results are known.

During the course of the investigation, it was determined that the roast beef was prepared at various sites including the homes of volunteers. This is contrary to the regulations for preparing meals for sale to the public. High-risk foods such as meat, poultry and fish must be cooked and prepared in a licenced facility.

A licence for sale of food for a church supper or community fundraiser can be obtained by contacting the Environmental Health Office of the Department of Health and Wellness which will conduct an inspection. Food handling and proper preparation procedures will be reviewed when the licence is issued.

In addition, it is recommended that persons who participate in serving or distribution of meals for the public participate in a food safety course which is offered free of charge by Environmental Health.

Clostridium perfringens suspected in Kansas turkey church dinner outbreak, 179 now sick

That Kansas turkey church dinner outbreak mentioned in today’s USA Today was probably caused by Clostridium perfringens, highlighting the need for proper cooling after cooking and sufficient reheating.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and City-Cowley County Health Department, with assistance from the Kansas Department of Agriculture and the cooperation of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Arkansas City, have been conducting an investigation of a foodborne illness outbreak associated with the Sacred Heart Turkey Dinner that was held on the evening of November 8.

Since that date, 179 people individuals who attended this event have reported becoming ill, with one requiring hospitalization. Preliminary results from initial testing indicate that the illness is due to exposure to toxin produced by bacteria called Clostridium perfringens; however, further results are still pending.

Many Clostridium perfringens outbreaks are associated with inadequately heated or reheated beef, turkey or chicken, allowing the bacteria to multiply to high levels. Once eaten, the bacteria produce a toxin that can lead to illness.

Incubation period, or the time from eating a contaminated food to onset of symptoms, is usually about six to 24 hours; however, this can vary depending on the amount of bacteria present.

Kansas church dinner toll climbs

There are now at least 159 individuals have reported becoming ill, with one hospitalization, following a Kansas church dinner earlier this month.

The Sacred Heart Turkey Dinner that was held on the evening of November 8, 2010, in Arkansas City, KS, had over 1,800 people in attendance.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and City-Cowley County Health Department, with assistance from the Kansas Department of Agriculture and the cooperation of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Arkansas City, are continuing to conduct an investigation of a possible foodborne illness outbreak, and are asking for the public’s help in completing a survey to identify the source of the outbreak.

“It’s really important that everyone who attended the dinner or consumed food prepared for the event complete this survey or contact the health department,” said Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, Kansas State Health Officer and Director of KDHE’s Division of Health. “Regardless of whether you’ve become sick, the information you provide will help us better understand what may have caused this gastrointestinal outbreak.”

The KDHE survey is available at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SacredHeartDinner.

Let health refs call potlucks

Four years ago, Brae Surgeoner and Ben Chapman wrote in the Wisconsin State Journal that health inspectors should oversee any commercial potluck or community function to make sure that everyone follows the rules.

Umpires and inspectors alike are not there to control the game, just to ensure it is being played right.

The Patriot-News in Pennsylvania reports
that even though the state capital cafeteria was closed because it was such a dump, legislators, led by Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver, got around to introducing legislation to bring what he calls common sense into the state’s food safety laws.

His bill, Senate Bill 828, would allow nonprofit groups, including church groups, Boy Scouts and youth sports teams, to sell homemade baked goods provided they put the consumer on notice that the food was made in an unlicensed, uninspected kitchen.

The Rev. Michael Greb, the pastor at St. Cecilia’s in Rochester, said he was pleased that something was being done "to take out the controversy over eating dessert" at future Friday fish fries, a fundraising tradition that the 3,000-member parish has held for decades to help keep its doors open.

Greb said he understands the food safety inspectors’ concern, but "these are our own people making these desserts out of their love for community. They weren’t out to hurt anybody. … The [desserts] people bring in notoriously are clean and good, and to imply anything other than that is just ridiculous."

I’ll be ridiculous. Faith aside – and the vast majority of food transactions are based on faith – as a parishoner I would have no idea of the sanitation, handwashing or food safety of the good folks preparing the food. I would want someone – or the threat of someone – to oversee food prep for commercial sale.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that the Governor’s Food Safety Council voted Wednesday to oppose any efforts to loosen regs on local sales.

Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, said, "The bottom line is I think I should be able to buy good wholesome food from my neighbor without the government interfering."

People know their neighbors and know what they are buying, she said. It also was absurd to regulate non-hazardous breads, jams and pies sold at bake sales and charitable events, she said.

"You’re 19 times more likely to get sick from mass-produced-and-processed food," she added. "I think I have a constitutional right to buy what I want and to feed my family fresh, healthy food."

There is no basis for that statement.

And as Chapman and Surgeoner wrote, Food safety isn’t a game, but having the health umpires around to make sure things are running smoothly isn’t a bad thing.