The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

February 2, 2014

UPDATE: Health Dept.: Beans soaked in horse trough

Dozens taken ill after annual event

— The final report on the Bean Day salmonella outbreak that left a dozen people hospitalized and scores of people ill last October may make some Limestone County residents cringe.

A nine-page study issued by the Alabama Department of Public Health and obtained Friday by The News Courier reveals that uncooked beans for the annual fundraiser had been soaked in a plastic-lined horse trough covered with plywood before the event and that existing bean soup was topped off with new bean soup during the event. Those are just some of the possible ways the beans became contaminated with salmonella senftenberg, according to the report.

Organizers said Monday they used a new, galvanized watering container lined in plastic to soak tthe beans, a procedure used for 15 years.

Impact

According to the ADPH report, an estimated 250 to 300 people ate food prepared for the Oct. 4 dinner hosted by the Athens-Limestone Foundation for Aging and held at First Baptist Church Family Life Center in Athens. Event organizers said Monday about 850 were served. The menu included white beans with ham, onions, vinegar-based coleslaw, cornbread, soft drinks and a variety of homemade desserts.

About 50 people reported falling ill following the event, though some may never have reported their illness.

Early on, public health officials determined that the beans were likely the source of the outbreak of salmonella senftenberg, but they did not know how the infection occurred.

While investigators could not determine definitively how, or at what point in preparation, the beans became contaminated, they did conclude in their final report that “opportunities for person-to-food, food-to-food and equipment-to-food cross-contamination or improper holding temperatures” could have been the cause.

Infection opportunities

Interviews with food preparers identified “several opportunities for cross-contamination and improper holding temperatures,” according to the report. Among them:

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