Jun 3, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – South Carolina officials announced today that contaminated turkey is probably the main culprit in a restaurant-related outbreak of Salmonella infections that has sickened more than 300 people and caused one death.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) reports there have been 304 confirmed and suspected cases, including 56 hospital admissions and one death, among people who ate at the Old South restaurant in Camden, S.C., between May 19 and 22. The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., has called the episode the largest foodborne illness outbreak in recent state history.
"Results of the epidemiological investigation, which included interviews of both ill and non-ill patrons, found turkey to be significantly associated with illness," State Epidemiologist Jerry Gibson, MD, stated in a news release. "But smaller contributions of other food items cannot be ruled out, possibly due to cross-contamination during cooking or serving."
Gibson further said, "It is likely that turkey was the vehicle, with preparation and handling practices possibly contributing to illness."
State investigators found some equipment at the restaurant that was not working properly, which may have led to undercooking of food, the DHEC said. The statement said the investigation turned up "several factors that may have contributed to the large number of cases," but it did not specify anything other than the faulty equipment.
Officials said 20 specimens from people who fell ill after eating at the restaurant have tested positive for Salmonella enterica serotype enteritidis, one of the most common strains identified in foodborne outbreaks.
The Kershaw County coroner has attributed one death in the outbreak to sepsis related to salmonellosis, the DHEC said. The State identified the victim as James Arledge, 58, of Lugoff, S.C.
The restaurant has been cooperative with the DHEC during the investigation, and the owners are discussing training opportunities for the staff, Sandra Craig, director of the DHEC's division of food protection, said in the news release.
In a May 28 report in the State, DHEC spokesman Thom Berry was quoted as saying that South Carolina has fewer than 90 inspectors to cover 17,000 food-service businesses.
The DHEC said it is continuing to search for sources of contamination in the outbreak.
South Carolina DHEC news release