North Carolina has been the site of many Salmonella illnesses in recent months. As has been diligently reported at Marlerblog, a salmonella outbreak linked to tempeh sold by an Asheville, N.C., company called Smiling Hara Tempeh Company has sickened — people, and a recall of the contaminated product has been issued by the Rockville, Maryland company that sold Smiling Hara the bad tempeh. The strain of salmonella involved in the tempeh outbreak is Paratyphi B, and the tempeh outbreak has sickened at least 88 people.
Then of course there’s the 10 North Carolina residents sickened in the Salmonella linked to frozen raw yellowfin tuna product, known as Nakaochi Scrape, from Moon Marine USA Corporation. According to the CDC, information indicates that the Salmonella-contaminated yellowfin tuna product came from a single tuna processing facility in India. This outbreak has sickened at least 316 people nationally.
And even though this is a North Carolina Salmonella-focused article, we would be remiss to fail to point out that, according to the state health department, at least 11 people became ill in an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to a Mexican restaurant called El Mexicano in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Two of the victims have developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can cause kidney failure.
But back to North Carolina and its Salmonella problems. This outbreak flew below the radar to some extent, but made a lot of people sick nonetheless, including Carrie and Charlie Nivens, whose lawsuit we will be filing against Lancaster BBQ restaurant located in Iredell County. Here is a description of the outbreak:
On January 10, 2012 Iredell County Health Department (ICHD) learned of 5 patients diagnosed with Salmonella who had experienced symptom onset around January 1. Patient isolates were at the North Carolina State Public Health Laboratory (NC PHL) for serotyping and molecular analysis. That same day ICHD received foodborne illness complaints from two patrons of Lancaster’s BBQ, a restaurant located in Mooresville. ICHD notified the North Carolina Division of Public Health that a foodborne illness outbreak might be underway. It was not until January 23 that local and state public health investigators felt there was sufficient evidence to launch an outbreak investigation. On that date the NC PHL had confirmed an indistinguishable strain of Salmonella Enteriditis in 6 patients. Investigators conducted patient interviews and discovered that all 6 individuals had eaten at the Lancaster BBQ Restaurant on one of two consecutive days, December 31, 2011 or January 1, 2012. Two other restaurant patrons were symptomatic but were not laboratory confirmed with Salmonella.
In an attempt to identify a contaminated food item prepared at Lancaster BBQ, public health investigators conducted a case control study. Controls (non-ill persons) were selected from credit card receipts provided by Lancaster BBQ. In total 12 ill persons (cases) and 24 controls were interviewed. Study results implicated salads as the source of the outbreak. ICHD and staff from the North Carolina Division of Environmental Health conducted on-site environmental investigations at the Lancaster BBQ, focusing on salad preparation.
The team inspected the Lancaster BBQ on January 11, 2012 and found no critical food safety violations. A second visit was made on February 2, 2012. During this inspection multiple opportunities for cross contamination were observed including liquid from thawed poultry dripping on the floor of the walk-in cooler which was being tracked throughout the restaurant by employees. A single employee was responsible for grilling meats and for salad preparation. This employee was observed handling salad ingredients without wearing gloves, providing another opportunity for cross contamination.
Local and state public health investigators concluded that between Christmas 2011 and New Year’s Day 2012, an outbreak of Salmonella Enteriditis occurred among Lancaster BBQ customers. Ill patrons were much more likely to report eating salad and BBQ Pork Salad. Environmental investigations suggested that cross contamination was the likely cause of the outbreak.