By: Pooja Sharma

About 150 people from 8 states became ill with Salmonella bacteria after attending a chili cook-off in Virginia. The cook-off took place at a Chincoteague Festival in September. More than 2000 people attended the festival and out of 2000, over 180 contracted Salmonella within days of the festival. The division of Consolidated Laboratory has identified the source to be Crab Shack Clam Chowder. They identified Salmonella Javiana in the sample that was collected by one of the attendees of the events.

The festival took place on September 30th. It was the 18th Annual Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company’s Chowder and Chili cook off. Since the festival, around 180 people from 8 different states have reported to be suffering from Salmonella. Those 8 states are – Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Since the symptoms of the disease can take 2-3 weeks to develop, there can still be some more cases that are not yet identified.

Approximately, half of the illnesses that are reported are seeking medical care with around 20% receiving emergency room care. About 10% of these people have been hospitalized for one or more nights.

The Aftermath….

The health department immediately launched an investigation into these claims. Approximately 500 survey responses from people who attended the event were recorded as a result. The survey was taken by both ill and healthy patients. Over 200 people who have filled out the survey by the health department have reported to have not contracted any foodborne illnesses to have food poisoning symptoms. However, the health department officials are still collecting and analyzing the data and the interviews of the attendees are also ongoing. A final epidemiologic report will be given out in 30 days.

Once the investigation comes to an end, the health department officials will take steps to minimize the risk of future outbreaks at these type of events. There was another sample that was collected to identify the culprit, and it pointed out to the same Salmonella strain that was found in the previous samples. Other results for the sample testing will be released by next week. Health officials will have more information on the outbreak by next week.

What does the Health Department have to say?

The Virginia Health Department reports that a standard practice is already in place to continually update the policies and procedures to prevent any outbreaks or illnesses that can affect public health. The Virginia Department of Health is the agency that regulates the food at the festival is appropriately handled and safely prepared for festivals like these.

Temporary Food Vendors – those who do not already have a permission to serve at the fest – needs to get a health department permit before attending such fests. A complete procedure for getting such a permit includes paying a $40 fee, filling out a complete application form that contains details regarding: the food item they want to serve, whether it’s served raw or cooked, if it will be prepared on site or off site, how it will be transported, what type of handling equipment will be used at the festival depending on the food is served hot or cold, the kind of cooking temperature that will be used and final cooked temperature of the food. There is a fee waiver for certain groups such as schools, churches, etc.

But that’s not it….

This three-page document also needs information regarding the type of overhead that will be used while the food is served, washed or prepared at the festival, handwashing facilities, toilet facilities, trash removal method, dishwashing method, water and electricity source, and other items.

And the officials make sure that all this mentioned data is being followed by keeping a check at the fest. They inspect vendors according to the frequencies already specified by the Virginia Department of Health Regulations and Policy. Agents reach the festivals one or two hours before the start and have an hour long walk inspecting each and every vendor. They check the offerings – type of food that’s served, how is it prepared, which dealer has supplied them with the food etc. After the inspection, the officials sign all the paperwork and the owners receive a certificate showing that they have been inspected and their booth is safe.

Clearly, the company did whatever could be done to save the people’s health from any illnesses. But, sadly this wasn’t enough for the tainted food to be served at such a famous festival. As the investigation continues, more information may reveal what really happened.

What is Salmonella Javiana?

There are more than 2000 strains of Salmonella. Salmonella Javiana is one of the top 5 most popular Salmonella strain that is linked in food related illnesses and outbreaks.  An estimated 1.2 million people are affected by Salmonella each year and an approximate 400 die. Salmonella was founded in late 19th century and since then the bacteria has been significantly linked with most of the foodborne outbreaks. Salmonella Javiana is the fourth most common Salmonella strain in the United States. This serotype is most often not associated with food products that are regulated by the agency.

Salmonella outbreaks are typically associated with poultry, dairy, seafood, etc., but outbreaks are not limited to these foods alone. It has been previously spread by lettuce, tomatoes, etc. Salmonella lives in the intestinal tract of humans and some animals. It spreads when food comes in contact with animal feces.

There are two types of Salmonella – Non-typhoidal Salmonella and Typhoidal Salmonella. Salmonella Javiana is mostly associated with non-typhoidal Salmonella.

Symptoms of Salmonella are the same as other foodborne illnesses – diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, etc. Complications in treatment generally arise in people who are considered as high risk like elderly people, children, pregnant women and those with compromised immune system. Salmonella infections generally last for around 3-7 days. Finding the right antibiotic is becoming increasingly difficult for Salmonella due to the increasing antibiotic resistance.