It turns out none of us are invulnerable from food poisoning illnesses, not even health department employees.  That’s the hard lesson learned by the folks at the Lawrence County Health Department in Illinois following their holiday party this month.

Phyllis Wells, the head of the Lawrence County Health Department, was among the 42 people who ultimately got sick after partaking in a buffet gathering of 72 people on December 15.  She says the cause of the outbreak hasn’t been pinpointed, but she suspects the culprit was a norovirus.

People can get it through contact with infected people, ingesting contaminated food or drink, or by touching contaminated items and then their mouths.

For now, Wells says the common denominator appears to be ham served in the salad bar.

Remember people (food service workers, restaurant patrons, everyone), WASH YOUR HANDS! These tips from the CDC are a good guide to follow:

Steps to proper handwashing:

  1. Hands should be washed using soap and warm, running water
  2. Hands should be rubbed vigorously during washing for at least 20 seconds with special attention paid to the backs of the hands, wrists, between the fingers and under the fingernails
  3. Hands should be rinse well while leaving the water running
  4. With the water running, hands should be dried with a single-use towel
  5. Turn off the water using a paper towel, covering washed hands to prevent re-contamination.

Hands should be washed after the following activities:

  • After touching bare human body parts other than clean hands and clean, exposed portions of arms
  • After using the toilet
  • After coughing, sneezing, using a handkerchief or disposable tissue, using tobacco, eating or drinking
  • After handling soiled equipment or utensils
  • After food preparation, as often as necessary to remove soil and contamination and to prevent cross-contamination when changing tasks
  • After switching between working with raw food and working with ready-to-eat food
  • After engaging in other activities that contaminate the hands.