By: Heather Williams

The small Arkansas town of Stuttgart has been hit by a growing Salmonella outbreak.  Currently 4 cases have been confirmed and at least 30 have become ill with Salmonella infection.  Initially the source was unknown, but today the Arkansas Department of Health has suggested the Chuck Wagon Restaurant is the likely source of the outbreak.

The Chuck Wagon is a casual dining restaurant that serves “multi-cuisine” American food for lunch and dinner.  They are known for their Friday and Saturday night seafood buffet. Chuck Wagon offers a dining experience as well as take-out and catering options.

Laboratory analysis and interviews are often used to determine what those who are sick have in common and if the illness they are experiencing comes from the same strain of pathogen.  “We are collecting biological specimens from patients that are ill,” health officials said. “In addition, we are collecting information about where they have eaten and any other common exposures they might have had.”  Preliminary data suggests the Chuck Wagon Restaurant is a likely source, but more testing is underway to be sure.

According to a news release issued Wednesday, August 23, 2017, the first cases were reported August 18, 2017.  Arkansas Department of Health has issued the following statement:

“ADH is taking steps to address this outbreak. We are collecting biological specimens from patients that are ill. In addition, we are collecting information about where they have eaten and any other common exposures they might have had. This may include animal or worksite exposure. ADH has inspected the site that has been identified as a common food source for these individuals and identified risks were removed. We have received cooperation from the site and have provided additional food safety training to all employees. ADH will be conducting a follow-up inspection. People who ate at the restaurant on or around August 14-16, and are experiencing symptoms should contact their healthcare provider first, and then the Department of Health either at (501) 537-8969 or by email at [email protected].”

The Arkansas Department of Health Outbreak Response Team (comprised of staff from Environmental Health Services, the Outbreak Control Branch, the Epidemiology Branch, and the Public Health Laboratory) will continue to investigate this outbreak.

In the interim, the Outbreak Response team urges citizens to take precautions. “Those who have contracted the illness are encouraged to practice good hygiene and wash hands thoroughly to prevent it from spreading. Salmonella typically lasts four to seven days and can include symptoms of diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.”

How Does Salmonella Become Foodborne Illness?

It seems like every day we see another outbreak in the news.  Is this something new that has started happening, or are the cases reported more often now?  Could it also have to do with the ease of disseminating information so the general public is more aware now than ever of what is going on in other parts of the country and even the world?  It could be all of the above.

But the other major question is, whether more prevalent now than before, how does Salmonella make its way into our food and create a foodborne illness?  For this, there are many places we can explore.

Kitchen Hygiene

Kitchen Hygiene is a major step in preventing foodborne illness, especially Salmonella infection.  Segregation of raw and cooked foods as well as utensils used to prepare raw foods from serving prepared foods is very important.  Salmonella is known to be associated with raw meats.  Proper handwashing and utensil washing is an important step to prevent cross contamination to other foods.

 Proper Cooking Temperature

Meats must be cooked to appropriate internal temperatures and verified with a food thermometer to be sure food is cooked hot enough to kill pathogens like Salmonella.  Each type of meat has its own internal temperature requirement:

  • Ground Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb: 160 ⁰F
  • Ground Turkey, Chicken: 165 ⁰F
  • Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb: 145 ⁰F
  • Pork and Ham: 145 ⁰F with 3 minutes rest time before serving
  • Poultry: 165 ⁰F
  • Egg: Cooked until both yolk and white are firm

Reputable Ingredient Sourcing

The end products are only as safe as the ingredients you use.  Always source a reputable supplier for your food products.  Choose suppliers known for quality and inspect the facilities if possible.  Research to determine if they have had any quality issues in the past and inspect all products prior to using them.  This applies not only to restaurants and retailers, but can be incorporated into your own grocery purchases as well.

CDC Quick Tips

There are many simple things that can be done to minimize risk of exposure and spread of foodborne pathogens like Salmonella.

The CDC recommends the following quick tips to avoid Salmonella infection:

  • “Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs, or raw (unpasteurized) milk.
  • If you are served undercooked meat, poultry or eggs in a restaurant, don’t hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
  • Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
  • Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.
  • Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds, or baby chicks, and after contact with pet feces.
  • Avoid direct or even indirect contact between reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes) and infants or immunocompromised persons.
  • Don’t work with raw poultry or meat, and an infant (e.g., feed, change diaper) at the same time.
  • Mother’s milk is the safest food for young infants. Breastfeeding prevents salmonellosis and many other health problems.”

Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Salmonella is often diagnosed with a stool or blood sample from a potentially infected person demonstrating typical symptoms of Salmonella infection.  These symptoms may include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.

Once Salmonella infection is confirmed, the specimen can be analyzed for DNA fingerprinting.  Essentially, this is a kind of genetic test that tells the clinical diagnostic laboratory more about the type of Salmonella involved.  This information can be compared to others also infected with Salmonella around the same time and geographical areas to determine if cases are linked.  This helps sort out the interviewing process to determine what those with the same strain of Salmonella have in common.