By Bayne Hughes Staff Writer | Posted: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 12:00 am
ATHENS — White beans were the source of a salmonella outbreak from a recent Bean Day fundraiser in Athens, an Alabama Department of Public Health official said Tuesday.
Dozens of people became sick with salmonella symptoms from the Oct. 4 fundraiser sponsored by the Athens-Limestone Foundation on Aging at First Baptist Church.
“We have confirmed there was salmonella in the patients’ specimen and in the beans,” said Kelly Stevens, director of epidemiology for the state Health Department.
This is the first confirmation of the salmonella outbreak by the state. Athens-Limestone Hospital officials previously said salmonella was confirmed in their patients’ tests.
Stevens said her department is conducting more tests, and a final report will be complete in four to six weeks.
Danny Yocom, director of labs at the Athens hospital, said Tuesday that 50 people associated with the outbreak came to the hospital’s emergency room, and 13 were admitted.
Yocom said 27 patients had cultures that showed the salmonella bacteria.
“We didn’t do cultures on every patient who came to the ER with the symptoms,” Yocom said. “And, of course, many more with the symptoms never came to the hospital.”
Stevens said the state is not doing a case count. The investigation is centered on cause and circumstances, she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said salmonellosis is an infection with bacteria called salmonella. Its symptoms include diarrhea, nausea and fever.
The Bean Day fundraiser, which annually draws between 400 and 500 people, has been held about 15 years. Athens Fire and Rescue held the fundraiser until 2010, and then the foundation took over.
The $6 plates included white beans, slaw, corn bread, onions and a homemade dessert.
Stevens said questionnaires have been given and collected from cooks, servers, volunteers and customers, including those who were sick and those who were not.
She said several food plates were collected, and they were found with colonies of bacteria.
“Many of the plates were eaten at the fundraiser,” Stevens said. “But a lot of the plates were delivered, and some were eaten a day later. All of these are issues that we are looking at.”
Stevens said they are trying to answer questions such as whether there was cross- contamination in a container or from a counter or if a food handler might have been sick.
Jackie Jackson, outgoing chairwoman of the Foundation on Aging, declined comment.
Bayne Hughes can be reached at 256-340-2432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.