ATLANTA - An investigation into an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium following a church festival provided public health officials a case study, and a not-so-subtle reminder, that foodservice operations at large-scale events pose a risk for foodborne illness, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In June 2010, public health officials at Hamilton County Public Health (HCPH) began receiving reports of gastrointestinal illness among attendees of a church festival. An estimated 9,000 people attended the festival, and 15 vendors sold food during the event. None of the vendors was licensed or inspected by HCPH because, in Ohio, religious organizations are generally exempt from standard licensing requirements, according to the CDC. Sixty-four cases were confirmed. An HCPH investigation revealed Salmonella Typhimurium as the culprit and pulled pork was implicated as the carrier. A traceback investigation also found that the product came from a retailer in Indiana.
"To assess environmental factors that may have contributed to the outbreak, the pulled-pork vendor was interviewed and revealed that the pork was prepared in a private home," the CDC report noted. The pork was cooked to an internal temperature of 180°F and cooled in pans in a non-commercial refrigerator, then reheated at the festival. The vendors were unable to report the time it took for the pork to reach a uniform temperature, and the time and temperature parameters of the reheating process also were unknown. Subsequent interviews revealed that the vendor would have been subject to foodservice licensing requirements under Ohio state law.
"HCPH used this experience to initiate the development of new outreach and education materials designed specifically to address food-safety regulations and concerns related to events and venues, such as church festivals, that are generally exempt from foodservice licensure and inspection in the state of Ohio," the report concluded.
Four Salmonella outbreaks in three states were associated with food consumed at a church, temple or religious location in 2011 (the most recent year for which FOOD data are available online), according to the CDC's Foodborne Outbreak Online Database. These types of incidents highlight the importance of rapid investigations to find the source of the outbreaks and the need for food-safety education to prevent recurrences.
"The experience of this outbreak investigation revealed that environments without public health regulation, such as church festivals, might place populations at risk for foodborne illness and might benefit from food-safety education of festival organizers and food vendors," CDC noted.