Rajneeshees: commune that purposely poisoned 750 diners in 1984 Oregon is now Christian youth camp

Mara Bovsun of the New York Daily News recounts the story of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who breezed into rural Oregon in the early 1980s to spread love, enlightenment and, for those who did not believe, a little bit of salmonella.

Excerpts below:

On Sept. 17, 1984, the Wasco County health department fielded what seemed a routine call, a case of food poisoning after dinner at a restaurant in arts-graphics-2008_1130134athe town of The Dalles. It was nothing out of the ordinary; from time to time some bacterium makes its way into someone’s salad.

But this was different. The phones kept ringing with reports of people falling ill after eating in local restaurants. Within a week, the Centers for Disease Control pinpointed salmonella typhimurium. By then there were more than 750 cases in a town of 10,000.

CDC sleuths determined that the mass poisoning was not the result of poor food handling, but a deliberate attack by an invading army, clad in red, that had set up a base in Oregon three years earlier. They were known as the Rajneeshees, followers of the charismatic spiritual leader from India.

The man who would become known to the world as the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was born Chandra Mohan Jain in 1931, son of a cloth merchant from central India. When he was 7, the death of his grandfather traumatized him. As he grew up, he prided himself on never establishing attachments, which gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted to anyone.

While he was in college his behavior became so bizarre that his parents tried to get him psychiatric help. Instead, in 1953, he became enlightened and found his life’s work — guru.

There, on a place formerly known as the Big Muddy ranch, the Baghwan built his American empire. It would eventually attract about 2,000 followers, dubbed “sannyasins,” all draped in the signature color of the cult — red — and wearing beaded necklaces with a picture pendant of their guru. Followers came from wealthy and elite circles, including Hollywood heavyweights and heiresses from such companies as Learjet and Baskin Robbins.

They paid generously for their path to fulfillment. The Bhagwan lived like a maharaja, with a fleet of 93 Rolls-Royces and piles of jewelry, mostly diamond-encrusted Rolex watches.

He lived in seclusion, emerging every so often to ride in one of his cars, and spoke to only one person, his trusted aide Ma Anand Sheela, 31.

The salmonella-in-the-salad-bar attack, is the largest act of bioterrorism on U.S. soil. That scheme was a practice run for a massive attempt to incapacitate Oregon voters by slipping bacteria into the water supply.

Dirty dining Vegas style: Souper Salad

This is the way to handle a bad restaurant inspection, especially with the television cameras rolling: take responsibility, fix things, and no whining.

KTNV reports the Souper Salad was issued with 29 demerits by the Southern Nevada Health District, primarily related to a salad bar that wasn’t keeping foods at the proper temperature.

When Contact 13 stopped at the restaurant, Souper Salad was right in the middle of a re-inspection. The manager, Jeff Brooks, took time to explain to us his concerns about the restaurant’s C grade. "It was definitely a concern and that’s why we took care of the steps as needed."

He says he had all the food at the salad bar thrown out, and that the salad bar was adjusted to the appropriate temperature. And in the end, Brooks says he stands by the quality of his restaurant. "Unfortunately sometimes these things happen. I do care about the type of food, the temperatures of the foods I feed to the public. I’m not one of these managers that doesn’t care about it."

We spoke with the Health District, which confirms, the restaurant was re-inspected. Souper Salad made the necessary changes to go from 29 demerits down to only 4, enough for an A grade. Looking into their history, this was actually their first C grade in 3 years.

Are salad bars in schools a good idea?

There’s a bunch of food safety types who say they’ll never eat from salad bars, because who knows where the stuff comes from and who knows how many people have blown their nose on the contents.

I do eat from salad bars, but not that often. I have concerns about the sanitation, but also like the convenience of getting fresh fruit and veg into the system.

I’m not sure I want to eat at a salad bar frequented by snotty 10-year-olds who may be clueless about handwashing.

Michelle Obama apparently didn’t consider the food safety aspects when she endorsed the salad bar in every school.

I’m all for fresh fruits and veggies. But because they are fresh, anything that comes in contact has the potential to contaminate. So do it safely (produce condoms?)