48 million cases of foodborne illness a year; most are not linked to foul play

Foodborne illness happens. It sucks when it does.

It’s pretty much never intentional; not never, but rare.

In 1986, two Rajneeshee commune mem­bers were indicted for conspiring to tamper with consumer products by poi­soning food after over 750 community members in The Dalles, Oregon became ill with salmonellosis in 1982.

It sucks that twelve Alabamans ended up with what looks like foodborne illness after a holiday party this week. It’s weird that the Montgomery Advertiser coverage twice says that the cases probably weren’t as result of intentional contamination.

No foul play is suspected, and it looks like it is a case of accidental food poisoning, said Capt. Jeff Hassell, who commands the Prattville Police Department’s investigations division. Kinedyne Corporation, which operates a plant in the 1100 block of Washington Ferry Road, held its holiday lunch Friday. About an hour after eating, several employees complained of feeling sick, Hassell said.

Three employees were taken by ambulance to Prattville Baptist Hospital’s emergency room, with a fourth employee going by private vehicle, said Ernie Baggett, director of the Autauga County Emergency Management Agency. 

“We are investigating because it is an unusual situation, so many people becoming sick so quickly,” Hassell said. “Right now, we have nothing to point to an intentional act. We are looking at improperly cooked chicken as the most likely source for a food poisoning situation.”

“It was a pot luck dinner,” Baggett said. “No one became seriously ill, but a few employees wanted to go to the hospital just to get checked out.


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.

15 hospitalized in North Carolina after suspected food poisoning

I avoid potlucks like I avoid the plague: I don’t know how the person prepared the food or their general health status.

vomitFifteen people were taken to hospitals Thursday morning after becoming sick at a U.S. Postal facility in west Mecklenburg County, N.C.

Medic, Mecklenburg County’s EMS agency, said they transported 15 people from the U.S. Postal facility around 6 a.m. when they became ill after consuming leftovers from a Veterans Day potluck.

Medic said the victims’ sicknesses are not life-threatening.

Officials at the facility said nearly 200 employees participated in a potluck dinner Tuesday evening to honor co-workers who are veterans. Some of the food was refrigerated overnight Tuesday.

Church lady law means food safety training for meals in Minn

The Duluth News Tribune reports that when Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Duluth served free breakfast to its Hillside neighbors on Saturday, it had all the needed ingredients: eggs, milk, bread, cereal … and food-safety training.

The latter is the result of the so-called “church lady law” that went into effect Aug. 1. The law exempts faith-based organizations that serve food to groups of people from routine health inspections. But the people who prepare the food must have state-approved training.

That requirement doesn’t apply to funeral dinners, wedding dinners and potlucks as long as they are on the church’s property, said Deborah Durkin of the Minnesota Department of Health.

It does apply to Gloria Dei’s breakfasts, your Boy Scout troop’s meatball fundraiser and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church’s lutefisk dinner. In the case of the latter, the law is fine with Christina Kadelbach, youth minister and small group coordinator at the Cloquet church.

“Working in a church and also being a mother, I think it’s important that we pay attention to the safety of food preparation and serving it,” Kadelbach said.

“We are also the state of 10,000 churches,” Durkin said. “It takes a long time to get down to the 30-member church in Yellow Medicine River.”

Fr. Timothy Sas, priest of Twelve Holy Apostles Greek Orthodox Church in the Hillside neighborhood, said he hadn’t dealt with the law. But he was confident that the church, whose parishioners include several restaurant professionals, meets all requirements for its fundraising meals and its annual Taste of Greece Festival.

Faith-based food safety.

Outbreak brings congregation closer; information about bugs may help too; 40 North Carolina church members fall ill after potluck

People weren’t so lucky at this potluck.

After a Sunday church service last week, 40 members of a Cary, NC, Baptist church caught what media described as a stomach virus, including the pastor’s family.

About 140 people gathered for Sunday worship at North Cary Baptist Church on Reedy Creek Road and then ate a potluck lunch together, said Pastor Mark Minervino.

Soon after, people began falling ill and vomiting, he said. At first, they thought it was food poisoning, but the illness passed between family members at different times.

They later discovered a child in the church had been ill two days before the pot luck. The child was not there Sunday, but relatives were, Minervino said.

The pastor spoke with a Wake County Health Department official, who told him it is probably the norovirus, a stomach bug that swept through Wake County earlier this year.

The church will be open Sunday, Minervino said, adding the outbreak has brought the congregation closer.

"They have such good spirits, and it’s really drawn us to watch over one another.”

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.


Sell food from home in New Mexico, get a permit

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that a rule change will go into effect today that requires those who sell home-based food products to have a permit issued by the New Mexico Environment Department.

That permit will allow the sale of certain foods that can be prepared in home-based food processing operations within state jurisdiction. Those foods include yeast and quick breads, cookies, cakes, tortillas, high-sugar pies and pastries, high-sugar jam and jellies, dry mixes (made from commercial ingredients), candy and fudge. Those foods do not support the rapid and progressive growth of infectious and toxicogenic microorganisms, including Clostridium botulinium, responsible for foodborne disease.

The food permit costs $100 a year. To obtain a permit to operate, a seller can submit an application to a local NMED field office. The application package is available at www.nmenv.state.nm.us/fod/Food_Program or at your local NMED field office.

As Ben and Brae wrote in the Wisconsin State Journal back in March, 2006, leave the umpires in the field — the health inspectors who make sure everybody plays by the rules. In this game we need to get along so it doesn’t leave a nasty and sometimes lethal taste in the mouths of players or spectators.

Potlucks and faith-based food safety

I like potlucks because of the social interaction and sampling different kinds of foods.

I don’t like potlucks because who knows how various dishes are prepared, how they’ve been stored, and the dreaded double dipping.

I told Erin Quinn of the Waco Tribune-Herald in Texas Monday that,

Maybe you don’t want to eat the turkey noodle casserole made in the kitchen of the woman who you notice never washes her hands before leaving the bathroom.

And maybe you should avoid the pumpkin cheesecake brought by the guy whose shirts are always covered with cat hair.

“There is a lot of blind trust in it. Potlucks are really popular because they bring people together and do a lot of good things. But all of that fellowship can turn into a lot of sick people.”

Powell recommends bringing a digital thermometer to potluck parties. He jokes that this is the reason he is hardly invited to potluck parties.

Still, he said these parties are not inherently riskier than eating at restaurants. And most people, he said, wash their hands properly, have clean kitchens and cook food at the proper temperature.

Allison Lowery, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said she, herself, eats at potlucks and is not too concerned about any risks.

“You can’t go around being scared of everything. You’ve just got to have faith.”

11 hospitalized, 125 sick from South Carolina fundraiser

At least four more people who ate food sold last week at a fundraiser at a Conway church have been hospitalized as of today, said Jim Beasley, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

A total of 11 people have been hospitalized, and DHEC officials believe there are about 125 people who sought physician care for gastro-intestinal illness symptoms in the area, Beasley said.

Conway Medical Center performed tests on three samples from patients and it appears that salmonella is expected, Beasley said.

People started becoming ill with symptoms such as abdominal cramping, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, after buying and eating food sold at the Cedar Grove Baptist Church in Conway to raise money to benefit the family of an ill child, said Dr. Covia L. Stanley, director of DHEC’s Region 6 public health office, which serves Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties, said in a news release Tuesday.

The meals, which included barbecue pork, baked sweet potatoes, cole slaw and rolls, were prepared at a local hunting club, Stanley said.

DHEC officials are asking that anyone who purchased any of the roughly 1,450 plates of food sold at the fundraiser to throw leftovers away and to contact their private healthcare physician if they are experiencing any symptoms.

Passover potluck vomit

Authorities are investigating what made more than 70 people attending a Passover event in Franconia, N.H., ill after eating at a potluck event.

State health officials said 150 people were attending the event when the illness broke out Saturday night, WMUR-TV of Manchester, N.H., reported Monday.

The New Hampshire Health and Human Services Public Health Lab was conducting tests to determine if the illness was salmonella, the report said.