Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thanksgiving Charity Event Results in Foodborne Illness Including 3 Deaths

An apparent foodborne illness outbreak related to a Thanksgiving charity event has impacted 17 people and caused 3 deaths and 1 hospitalization.  Many of these people were in the "high risk' category.  While the cause and the source have not yet been identified (although this may be similar), here is what is known:
  • Food was prepared at the facility as well as brought from volunteers homes.  Food prepared at the facility included mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, heated up creame corn and green beans.  Items made at volunteer's homes included turkeys, hams, and sweet potatoes.
  • Pies purchased from local stores.
  • Death ranges: Teens to 70’s
  • Says patients came from at least 3 facilities
  • Symptoms – nausea, diarrhea, vomiting
  • People who became ill got sick within 24-hours of consuming the food
  • In California, non-profits can run this type of event for members and guests without a permit. 
In Pennsylvania, a soup kitchen  operation would also be exempt from requiring a license, but the American Legion where the foods was provided would probably have one.  If the food was being sold rather than given away as a charity event, then a license would probably be required.  The additional concern would be the products that were made at home.  A licenced facility would not be allowed to serve these types of foods (TCS) made at home.

Regardless, it is an important to train volunteers on food safety, such as Cooking for Crowds.  Cases like this are reminders of that.

East Bay Times
Antioch food-related deaths: More cases of sickened patrons
By Aaron Davis |, Matthias Gafni | and Sam Richards |
PUBLISHED: November 29, 2016 at 12:42 pm | UPDATED: November 29, 2016 at 8:46 pm

ANTIOCH — At least 17 people were sickened in the outbreak of a foodborne illness that apparently killed three in East Contra Costa County, authorities said Tuesday, as evidence mounted that the cause was a church-sponsored Thanksgiving dinner in which much of the food was prepared in homes.

A day after saying that a county health permit was not required for the community dinner that served more than 800 people at the American Legion Hall in Antioch, Contra Costa County health officials said Tuesday they will now investigate whether a permit should be required of Brentwood’s Golden Hills Community Church next year, if the dinner continues. Such a permit would subject its serving facilities to a county health inspection and require that no food be served that was prepared in private homes or from unlicensed facilities.

“We will be talking with (Golden Hills) about this event next year,” Dr. Marilyn Underwood, environmental health director for Contra Costa Environmental Services, said Tuesday. “I think it should be permitted.”

Nine additional cases of illness tied to the Thanksgiving Day event were reported Tuesday, on top of the eight that were revealed Monday.

The Antioch meal’s organizer, Jeff Oransky, said that the instant mashed potatoes and stovetop stuffing were made at the American Legion site and the green beans were warmed up there, but everything else was brought in from the homes of volunteers.

Attorney William Marler, who has litigated decades worth of foodborne illness cases, said the known facts of the Antioch case point to clostridium perfringens, a bacteria associated with undercooked meats that are left to sit for long periods of time.

“Most people get sick for 36 to 48 hours, but if you’re 80 years old it could kill you,” Marler said.

Other foodborne illnesses can be eliminated because they have longer incubation periods, meaning the symptoms would not appear for days, unlike the Antioch case that led to stomach issues within 24 hours, Marler said.

Those who fell sick range in age from their “teens to their 70s,” Underwood said.

The three people who died came to the event from two assisted living facilities, Minerva’s Place and Minerva’s Place IV, according to a spokesman for the Department of Social Services, a further indication that the community dinner was the source of the illness.

facilities are two of four assisted living residential care facilities for the elderly operated by Minerva in southwest Antioch.

Medical calls show ambulances responding to two of Minerva Place’s houses, on Palo Verde Way and El Paso Way, a little after 3 p.m. on Friday.

Minerva administrator Emerito Gonzalez said they took more than 20 residents to the Thanksgiving dinner, just as they do every year. After five were showing symptoms of nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, they were all taken to the emergency room.

Gonzalez said Minerva’s four locations have different menus and do not send food from one house to another.

“It’s tragic. They were thinking that they would have a good Thanksgiving, and now they have passed away,” Gonzalez said. “I just want to know what happened. I don’t want this to ever happen again.”

Oransky, the meal organizer, said his wife, Linda, saw people passing out turkey dinners in takeout containers to people standing in line at the American Legion building but did not know who they were or what group they were from.

“First we heard about them is they were trying to come in and bring in some containers of food,” Oransky said. “We told them not to bring it in, and they said they were passing it out outside. We keep it hot on the burners, but we don’t know about their food.”

Underwood said county health officials are looking into those takeout-container dinners, which she said had been rejected by the Golden Hills organizers.

Though the church did also pass out food in takeout containers, Oransky said he has never seen an incident like this in the 15 years he has been organizing the dinner.

Officials said that while they suspect the deaths and illness were caused by the holiday meal, they don’t know whether food prepared at the hall or donated after being cooked at home by church members was to blame.

On its website Tuesday, Contra Costa County Health Services says it issues what it calls a “community event/temporary food permit” designed for one-time or infrequent events where large volumes of food are served at places “with limited physical facilities and equipment.” Such a permit requires an inspection by a Contra Costa Environmental Health inspector, in large part to ensure sufficient sanitation and hygiene to prevent the spread of “germs that cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever and, in certain circumstances, death.”

In Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties, such permits come under the “temporary food facility” heading. One-time or occasional events could include county fairs, city festivals, circuses, cook-offs and other community events. San Francisco and Alameda County health officials said Tuesday their counties would require a permit from those putting on a community Thanksgiving dinner like the one in Antioch.

Contra Costa health officials are asking other people who became sick to come forward for testing, and that anyone who still has food that made them sick bring it in for testing; call 925-313-6740 to arrange such testing.

It could take more than a week before a cause is clearly identified, if a cause is identified. “It’s also possible that we’ll never know,” said Dr. Louise McNitt, Contra Costa County’s deputy health officer.

Brett Moore, of Antioch, was eating bear claws outside the American Legion on Tuesday and said that he had attended the Thanksgiving dinner last week. He didn’t get sick and didn’t know of anyone that had complained about it.

“I even took leftovers, and I know other people that took leftovers, like the gravy and stuff that was leftover,” Moore said.

Phil Hill, executive director of Golden Hills Community Church, said church members also cook at home and drop off dishes.

“We are really concerned for the human loss in all of this. There are investigations by the county, and we are cooperating,” Hill said. “We are concerned for the people and families that have lost loved ones, and we stand by the opportunity to be there and help in any way we can.”

The California Department of Public Health is assisting the county in its investigation.

Coincidentally, on Friday, the day many of the Antioch victims went to the hospital, the CDC released a report on a catered company Thanksgiving meal from last year in North Carolina that ended with 44 people contracting clostridium perfringens out of the 80 attendees. No one needed to be hospitalized.

The study found participants that ate the turkey and stuffing were more likely to get ill.

Simple food safety, such as keeping hot food hot, cool foods cool and washing your hands can keep such events safe, Marler said.

From a legal standpoint, Marler said the church and other nonprofits involved in the meal likely would not be held liable for any illnesses.

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