Irony can be ironic: 70 staff members ill after NM Department of Health luncheon

Andrew Oxford of The New Mexican reports that epidemiologists at the state Department of Health are investigating their agency’s own annual holiday luncheon after dozens of employees reported falling ill after the party last week.

barfAbout 70 staff members claim to have experienced gastrointestinal issues following the catered event at the Harold Runnels Building attended by more than 200 employees, according to a spokesman.

Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher wrote in an email to staff Monday that investigators have not identified a specific food from the party that may have caused the outbreak.

A team from the department’s Epidemiology and Response Division “believes that there may have been cross-contamination of menu items served during the luncheon,” she wrote.

Epidemiologists were still waiting for laboratory test results as of Monday, but Gallagher told staff the outbreak appears to have been caused by Bacillus cereus or Clostridium perfringens, toxins that can cause foodborne illness.

“We will work to take appropriate steps to address food handling procedures with the caterer and prevent such problems in the future,” wrote, Gallagher.

Spokesman Paul Rhien said the event was catered by a local business, but he did not specify which one when asked by a reporter to identify the company.

Possible foodborne illness at ethics conference

One of the cornerstones of ethics and social responsibility, but one that is rarely discussed, is don’t make people barf.

With an Alanis Morissette level of ironical irony, a number of Indiana State University students and employees reported having flu-like symptoms after consuming food they ate at the April 4 Ethics and Social Responsibility Conference at ISU.

ISU food service providers are denying that contaminated food is to blame.

Conference attendees were served box lunches of cold cut sandwiches, a fruit cup, a pickle and a bag of potato chips.

The Indiana Statesman contacted one of the event’s Scott College of Business student organizers who was instructed not to speak on the record about reports of illness linked to the conference.

But College of Business Associate Dean Bruce McLaren said he received reports on April 5 of attendees having become ill following the conference. McLaren said he knew of multiple students and faculty who became ill. After receiving those reports, he notified Sodexo, he said.

According to a statement issued April 12 by Sodexo public relations director Monica Zimmer, "Sodexo was notified about alleged foodborne illness at Indiana State University. We have reviewed our procedures and are confident they are in line with our stringent food safety standards."

"The health department completed three inspections in the Hulman Memorial Student Union this week and found no violations. In addition, Sodexo received a food safety score of 99% during a recent inspection by a third-party auditor."