Over 250 sick from Norovirus in Montana


The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) announced Wednesday that in the last three months there have been 12 norovirus outbreaks in Montana that have sickened more than 250 people.

turkey-testicle-festivalThis is three times the number of outbreaks usually reported during this time of year.

Outbreaks have occurred in the counties of Cascade, Flathead, Rosebud, Sanders, Valley and Yellowstone.

“Most of these outbreaks occurred in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, putting our elderly population at risk,” said Dana Fejes of the DPHHS Communicable Disease Epidemiology Section. “Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water often can protect you and others from norovirus.”

‘Timing couldn’t have been better’ 40 sickened with E. coli O157 at Richey reunion

It was supposed to be unforgettable, but for some who attended the Richey, Montana, Centennial last month, it was unforgettable for the wrong reasons.

Richey1Around 40 people from 10 states reported they had been infected with E. coli O157.

At least seven were hospitalized, and six Montana counties have been affected.

“If you had to have a foodborne outbreak, the timing couldn’t have been better,” says Jennifer Fladager, Dawson Co. Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.

Fladager had relatives who attended the celebration. She says staff members were prepared for this outbreak.

“We were aquatically trained and prepared for something like this. It’s rather ironic, we were just at a public health summer institute and we went over how to properly conduct case interviews with foodborne illness,” says Fladager.

Investigators say they have nearly completed their investigation and are working with the caterer to determine how the meal became contaminated.

At least 30 sick: E. coli strikes Montana town

Aja Goare of KTVQ reports the Dawson County Health Department is investigating an outbreak of E. coli at the Richey Centennial that sickened more than 30 people.

richey.montanaThe event took place the third weekend in July in Richey, which is about 50 miles north of Glendive.

Health officials do not know exactly where the outbreak originated, but they believe it may have originated with a local food vendor present at the event.

According to the DCHD, the vendors have been cooperating with the investigation.

People who attended the event are discouraged from consuming any leftover food they may have from the event and are asked to turn it over to the local health department.

At least six of the people who became ill have been hospitalized.

Visitors from eight different states and six Montana counties have become ill, according to the DCHD.

New cases are still being reported and additional laboratory results are pending.

On a Facebook page created for the event, a Nevada woman who attended reported that her mother had been hospitalized for several days due to the illness.

Everything you wanted to know about health inspectors but were afraid to ask

Alisha Johnson, a food safety educator and inspector with Montana’s Missoula City-County Health Department Environmental Health Division writes in this column that as a health inspector, I don’t get invited to many potlucks or dinner parties.

everything.sex.2However, when I do, inevitably the host asks me to rate the cleanliness of their kitchen. They wait for my answer, nervously clutching a bowl of salsa like a life preserver, their eyes a turbulent mix of terror and hope. After I reassure them that their kitchen looks lovely, they smile and in their moment of relief, eat out of the bowl of salsa with their hands, politely licking their fingers before offering it to others. If that wasn’t awkward enough, people’s reactions to what I do for a living can take things to a whole new level. Typically, it’s a healthy mix of questions, storytime, and discussion.

Depending on the crowd, I may get “How does it feel to be most hated person in town?” or “Tell me about the grossest thing you’ve ever seen,” which determines whether I will feel like a celebrity or the village pariah for the rest of the evening. And — don’t even get me started on how I’m the Grinch that ruins Christmas dinner. During these interactions, fun or awkward, nothing amazes me more than the misconceptions out there about what we do in public health and about food safety in our personal lives.

Misconception No. 1: Health inspectors must be the most hated people in town.

Sorry to burst the hyperbolic bubble, but negative relationships between inspectors and establishments are few and far between. While not everyone may like what we tell them, the majority of operators are great people who understand that we’re there to help them. I remember an inspection the first year that I worked at health department that had pages of violations. Instead of calling my supervisor to complain about me, the operator called to say what a great learning experience their inspection had been. And this isn’t a unique case. So yeah, it’s a tough job, and sometimes things get tense, but overall, our inspectors have a relationship with operators built on mutual respect.

Misconception No. 2: The health department is the reason so much food gets thrown away. 

Actually, very rarely does the health department require someone to toss food and it only happens when it is danger to public health. You may remember when the health department directed a vendor to discard food at the 2014 fair. This rare event happened because food hadn’t been refrigerated for days. However, stores tossing food because of “best by” dates or quick service restaurants tossing food every hour are doing that based on their own quality guidelines, not health codes. For example, “sell by” and “best by” dates on products that you buy at the grocery store are for quality, not safety. With the exception of baby formula and some refrigerated products, there are no regulations for discard. On the other hand, some “use by” dates are for safety such as those on many vacuum sealed, refrigerated products.

everything.sex.1Misconception No. 3: See no evil, smell no evil—it’s gotta be safe.

People seem to think that if food smells fine and looks fine, it’s safe to eat. My dad used to do the “sniff test” with the milk to see if it was still good and I’ve even seen restaurant operators take a whiff of something to see if it’s servable. However, the “sniff test” tells you nothing. One of the most dangerous pathogens out there, Listeria monocytogenes, doesn’t change the way that a food looks or smells, and it grows well on cold, ready-to-eat foods—even when they are kept refrigerated. Things like deli meats, soft cheeses, and leftovers can be a risk for this pathogen if kept too long in the fridge. This particular pathogen is nothing to shrug off. It can be deadly for those with weakened immune systems like kids and people getting on in years, so it’s definitely one to take seriously. A good way to protect against listeriosis is to use leftovers and ready-to-eat products like cold cuts within four days—even if there’s no slime and they smell fine.

Misconception No. 4: If the bathrooms and floors are clean, the kitchen is clean too.

While that may be true in many cases, it’s not a guarantee. I’ve been a part of foodborne illness investigations where the place looks fantastic in the customer areas, but it’s falling apart in the kitchen. And I’ve also seen amazing operations from a food safety angle, but the customer areas were a little worse for the wear. Food safety is more than cleanliness, though cleanliness has a lot to do with it. A good clean facility is a foundation on which other parts of a good operation are built; however, a clean facility doesn’t mean that food is being kept hot or cold, getting cooked as needed, or that employees are washing their hands when they are supposed to. The best way to know if your favorite restaurant is doing a good job isn’t to look at the bathroom; it’s to be an educated consumer. Look at our inspection reports. They are all public record and available online. They are part of the public service that we provide to you—our community.

Misconception No. 5: I feel miserable. It’s gotta be the restaurant where I ate lunch.

Very rarely is it the last thing that you ate that made you sick, and it’s not always a restaurant’s fault. Some illnesses may take days or even weeks for symptoms to show. Salmonellosis may take three days before its classic symptoms rear their ugly heads. Hepatitis A could take up to six weeks. This means that what made you sick could be a number of things in that window of time — including something that you made at home or ate at a potluck (to which I was not invited). We do unsafe things in our own homes that we don’t even realize put us at risk. For example:

Do you take temperatures of chicken, burgers, and other animal products to make sure that they are cooked, or do you rely on color and texture? Color and texture are not reliable ways to tell if something is cooked. Frozen versus fresh meats, fat content, cooking method, and a variety of other things can influence color and texture. Cooking foods to the minimum internal temperature recommended by the USDA is the only sure bet.

Do you let cooked food sit out on the counter for hours? What about leftovers? Do you tightly seal them in a container and put them in your fridge? Letting food sit at room temperature for too long or not properly cooling leftovers is responsible for a large portion of the foodborne illnesses we see each year in the U.S. Keep foods hot or cold, limit the time food sits out to two hours or less, and help leftover foods cool quickly by refrigerating them in shallow containers with the lid vented until completely cool.

Do you wash your hands every time you make food? Between raw meats and ready-to eat items like vegetables? How about before eating? Do you use soap and hot water, or do you just rinse your hands and wipe them on a towel? Think about all of the things that your hands touch over the course of the day and when preparing a meal. Hand washing is one of the most effective health promotion tools. Scrubbing your hands using hot water and soap and cleaning under your fingernails can remove dirt, debris and pathogens that can make you sick. Washing hands at the right times is an easy way to protect your health.

Montana pool closed after intentional poop incident

Who poops in a pool? On purpose?

Bogert Pool was closed Thursday after fecal matter was found in the pool that morning.

caddyshack.pool.poop-1“To us it appears someone was in the facility overnight,” said Elizabeth Hill, the city’s interim aquatics manager. “It was something that would have been done sometime between us closing last night and opening this morning.”

Staff members discovered “a decent amount” of fecal matter intentionally placed in the pool when they removed covers from the surface, Hill said.

The pool was closed while it was cleaned and more chlorine was added. It is expected to reopen this morning.

“We just follow the standard procedure of letting chlorine do its work in filtering through the system for 24 hours,” Hill said. “Our first priority and concern is just getting the matter out of the water and letting the chlorine start to work.”

Public health protects public health; if people got sick we wouldn’t be doing our job

RiverStone Health in Montana was criticized last month when it raised concerns about a man who wanted to make Christmas dinner in his family’s kitchen and deliver the meals to shut-ins.

Health officials say they were only doing their job.

“Let’s imagine the unimaginable,” said RiverStone Health CEO John Felton. “Suppose 35 people got salmonella. What would the question of RiverStone Health have been at that point? We would not have been the Grinch who stole Christmas. We would have been the folks who allowed 35 people to get sick because we didn’t execute our responsibility.”

RiverStone objected to Cody Walter, owner of Delivery 2u, using private kitchens to prepare and distribute food. RiverStone provided Walter with information on food safety. They also identified a number of commercial kitchens so the holiday meals could be prepared in a facility equipped to safely store and prepare the food and milk donations he was receiving.

Walter said he was “shut down” and suggested the Grinch had stolen Christmas.
Public sentiment overwhelmingly sided with Walter.

“What needs to be clear is that we don’t have any interest whatsoever in preventing churches, nonprofit organizations and others from doing the good they do in the community,” Felton said. “Our compelling interest is to protect the safety and health of the public. What we don’t want is to have a bunch of people get sick because we didn’t provide the information they need.”

RiverStone Health employs nine registered sanitarians, six of whom are involved in food inspections. In fiscal year 2011, they conducted 1,750 unannounced inspections in 1,000 licensed establishments. The number of inspections does not include temporary events such as Christmas Stroll, Saturday Live and the Strawberry Festival.

“Cody Walter was doing a good thing,” Felton said. “If we would have had advanced notice we could have worked closely with him. We don’t want to discourage people from doing those types of things. He seems like a good-hearted guy, but there is a huge difference between cooking for five people and cooking for 50 and then delivering it.”

Walter said he understands now that RiverStone Health was only trying to protect him as well as those to whom he would deliver meals. “There are no hard feelings. They were only doing what they should be doing,” he said. “They are there for a reason.”

Sprouts are safe if they are local? Not

Since no one publicly knows anything about the supplier or source of sprouts linked to a 15-state wide salmonella outbreak with 89 sick, I have no idea why a Jimmy John’s owner in Montana thinks local is safer.

Dan Stevens, the owner of the Missoula and Great Falls Jimmy John’s, decided to share his knowledge of microbiological risk reduction in raw sprouts by e-mailing KRTV and stating,

“…the sprouts for our Great Falls store are grown right here in MT. Right outside of Billings. I would like to stress that fact. Our sprouts are a few states and over 1000 miles removed from Illinois. Sprouts have not been taken off our local menu as we have encountered zero problems since our opening over a year ago.”


Montana woman fends off bear with zucchini

Finally, a use for all that zucchini rather than dumping it on unsuspecting friends and neighbors.

When a 90-kilogram black bear attacked a Missoula County woman’s dogs just after midnight on Wednesday on the back porch of her home, she tried to separate the animals, and was bit in the leg by the bear.

Lieutenant Rich Maricelli, from the sheriff’s department said the woman reached for the nearest object at hand on the porch’s railing – a large zucchini she had harvested from her garden.

She flung the vegetable at the bear, striking it and forcing it to flee.

Over 80 sick from campylobacter in Montana resort well water

Whenever I go to a cottage or a camp – rare these days — I always ask about the water source, how often it is tested and whether it is chlorinated. Most people can readily answer; some can’t.

County and state health officials on Friday said several people have become ill after consuming water from a privately owned public water supply near Hebgen Lake, Montana (right, exactly as shown).

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has confirmed 14 cases of campylobacter gastrointestinal illness. Information collected about the cases "strongly suggests that exposure occurred at the Campfire Lodge Resort," according to the statement. At least 70 more cases are considered "probable."
Along with county health agents and DPHHS, the Montana Department of

The owners of the resort are cooperating with the probe, and have taken action to prevent future illnesses.

Elk or Bison to blame for Montana’s loss of “Brucellosis free status”

On September 3rd, 2008, Montana lost its brucellosis-free status due to two cases of infected cattle.  It was a big blow since last February the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared all 50 states to be free of brucellosis — the first time that had happened in 74 years.
Montana’s livestock producers will now be required to test bulls and nonspayed females, 18 months of age or older, 30 days before interstate shipment.

Ranchers in Montana and surrounding states are taking action to prevent any further spread of brucellosis.  A brucellosis plan of action has been proposed by the Montana Department of Livestock, which includes surveillance, vaccination, traceability/animal identification, fencing/pasture management, and other measures to help the state regain its brucellosis free status. If no additional cases of brucellosis in livestock are found, the state will be able to apply for Class Free status to USDA APHIS in late May of 2009. Also, Montana needs to prove to USDA that no additional cases of brucellosis in cattle exist in the state.

is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria of the genus Brucella.  
It is a devastating illness for herds as it causes cattle to spontaneously abort if pregnant.  Humans become infected by coming in contact with animals or animal products that are contaminated with these bacteria.  To prevent infection, herdsman should use rubber gloves when handling viscera of animal; all consumers should not have unpasteurized milk, cheese or ice cream.

Who’s to blame for the source of the brucellosis disease?  Livestock officials point to wild elk and bison in the area, though there has been much discussion as to whether these are the true culprits. A four-foot high, seven-mile long electric fence has been erected near Gardiner to steer bison that migrate out of Yellowstone National Park to acceptable grazing land. In terms of sheer numbers, the Yellowstone region’s 25 elk herds dwarf the three herds of bison. And unlike bison, which move in groups, elk move freely over the region’s numerous mountain ranges, often alone or in small numbers. Livestock officials say infected elk herds around Yellowstone must be culled, but hunters are pushed back saying that efforts should focus on vaccinating cattle or eradicating the disease in bison.

There is also the probability that neither of these species are the ones responsible for the infected cattle. The fact that both the 2007 and the current brucellosis detections have occurred in Corriente cattle, a breed closely associated with brucellosis, has many questioning whether cattle, and not Yellowstone wildlife, are responsible for the transmissions resulting in Montana losing its brucellosis free status.

Government authorities continue to work with local officials toward regaining its status as a state free from brucellosis.