Jenna Youngs of The Columbia Missourian (MO) reports that in the event of a potluck dinner gone bad, Missouri health officials now are more prepared to deal with a food-borne illness outbreak.
Officials from 13 county health departments and a state department met at the Callaway County Health Department office Monday to discuss ways to combat potential outbreaks.
Heather Baer, Columbia-Boone County Health Department spokeswoman, said roughly 75 people attended the drill in Fulton. Participants discussed procedures to control large-scale outbreaks such as salmonella or E. coli.
“Every community experiences food-borne illness breakouts from time to time; it’s a pretty common thing,” Baer said. “We’re testing the plans on a larger scale.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, persons infected with a food-borne illness experience flu-like symptoms including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Those infected usually get the illness from consuming or handling food contaminated with bacteria or other pathogens.
“There is a wide variety of ways a person could get ill from food,” said Brian Quinn, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spokesman. “For example, improper handling, leaving something out too long, or if someone cuts chicken on a cutting board then cuts vegetables on the same board, bacteria could transfer to the vegetables.”
There were 1,319 food-borne illness outbreaks nationwide in 2004, which resulted in 28,239 individuals reporting sicknesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quinn said the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services typically receives reports of outbreaks rather than individual cases, and the department passes on information it collects to the CDC.
Quinn said large-scale outbreaks are rare, but when they occur communication between health departments is key to informing potential victims. He said an example of a large-scale outbreak would be if many people from different areas ate contaminated food at a convention.
“It could be tricky if people ate a contaminant, then left,” he said. “What would happen is people would report it to the health department in their local area, and it could get tricky to backtrack to the point of origin.”
Baer said increasing communication between command centers responding to outbreaks was a main goal of Monday’s exercise.
“We’re working on having different sections communicate in a better manner,” she said.
Trina Teacutter, a public health nurse with the Columbia-Boone County health department, said exercising emergency response plans with other agencies streamlines efforts when various organizations combine to respond to an emergency, not only in regards to food-borne illness outbreaks, but any number of public health concerns, including chicken pox or influenza outbreaks.
“If we have to go assist another county, because our plan is the same and we practice together, we can make it as smooth a process as possible when we do work together,” she said.