6 sick with Salmonella; faith-based food safety at Johns Hopkins

Irony can be ironic: like when students at a big shot medical campus are stricken with Salmonella.

Especially when the administrators of the big shot medical school can’t be bothered to provide sick or concerned students with anything but platitudes.

The Johns Hopkins News-Letter writes that last Saturday, Dean of Student Life Susan Boswell sent an email to Hopkins students informing them of a salmonella outbreak occurring on the Homewood campus.

Six undergraduate students have been diagnosed with salmonella poisoning.

The salmonella cases have spurred an epidemiologic investigation led by the Baltimore City Health Department and Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in cooperation with the Student Health and Wellness Center.

The investigation, which includes interrogation of those affected, is ongoing and the source of the salmonella is still unknown.

Kompan Ngasmsnga, Acting Director of the Office of Acute Communicable Diseases in the Baltimore City Health Department, is one of the major players in conducting this investigation to find the source of the salmonella bacteria. “At this point, most of the cases are either freshmen or sophomores, and their commonality is that they ate in the Fresh Food Café,” Ngasmsnga said.

However, this does not mean that students should be wary each time they eat at the Fresh Food Café. “Our students’ health and food safety has always been, and will continue to be, the most important component of our program,” David Furhman, Director of Dining Programs, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Boswell reaffirmed this in her email when she stated that no new cases had been reported in eight days. Even Joffe sees no problem with eating campus food. “I have no reason to think that eating university food is unsafe,” Joffe wrote. “Personally, I would not hesitate to eat at the FFC, Nolan’s or Levering.”

The salmonella cases will not affect the Fresh Food Café’s relationship with caterer Aramark in the year before their contract expires.

“There is no reason for this issue to affect our relationship with Aramark, now or moving forward,” Furhman wrote. “Aramark’s broad-based and extensive safety and sanitation policies and procedures are designed to safeguard against all food borne issues and illnesses. Those rigorous policies and procedures cover each and every aspect of the food service process, from procurement of food from reputable suppliers, through and including cooking and holding food at proper temperatures.”

Many students, however, have a different take on the issue. As a Hopkins freshman, Henry Bernstein goes to the FFC multiple times a day. “I have no idea how safe the food is.” Bernstein said, “It’s very concerning that people are getting salmonella. There is no place else I can get food.”

Freshman Carly Greenspan agrees. “My issue is that the FFC is where most people go, so a lot of people who have meal plans don’t really have a choice. And if you don’t know what’s in the food you are eating — that’s scary,” Greenspan explained.

Engineering safety: Hands-free faucets may harbor more bacteria than old kind

Those hands-free electronic water faucets that seem to be in every public bathroom may not be that great at keeping us germ free after all.

A study of newly installed fixtures at Johns Hopkins Hospital showed the faucets were more likely to be contaminated with a common and hazardous bacteria than the old fashioned faucets with separate handles for hot and cold water.

Dr. Lisa Maragakis, senior study investigator, said in a statement and reported by the Baltimore Sun,

“Newer is not necessarily better when it comes to infection control in hospitals, especially when it comes to warding off potential hazards from water-borne bacteria, such as Legionella species. New devices, even faucets, however well intentioned in their make-up and purpose, have the potential for unintended consequences, which is why constant surveillance is needed.”

The results will be presented April 2 at the Society for Health Care Epidemiology’s annual meeting.

The new faucets did cut daily water use by more than half, said Maragakis, director of hospital epidemiology and infection control at Hopkins Hospital and an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. But, for example, they also had Legionella growing in half of the water samples from 20 faucets near patient rooms. That compares with 15 percent of the cultures from 20 of the old faucets in the same patient care areas.

The Hopkins researchers had aimed to determine how often the new faucets had to be treated to protect vulnerable patients when they discovered the higher rates of bacteria. They’ve notified other hospitals and plan to work with manufacturers to remedy the problem.