Recently I saw a few blips appear on the public health radar.
When multiple people appear at the emergency room with similar symptoms from a singular event, the Health Department is typically notified. In this case, it was salmonella from attendees at a wedding.
Salmonella is the name for a group of bacteria that is a common cause of food poisoning in the U.S. In many minds, salmonella is associated with chicken, similar to ground beef which is associated with E. coli. Besides chicken, eggs, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese and contaminated raw vegetables are other sources. The symptoms of salmonella include diarrhea, fever, vomiting and abdominal cramps. Symptoms begin 12 to 72 hours after the consumption of the product and last four to seven days. Typically, drinking fluids and resting is the course of treatment.
But this latest example had a few wrinkles. It was a Hispanic wedding in Lumberton with no listing of attendees — it was an open party evidently. This particular population has great reluctance to share any information with officials, so details were very sketchy. It appears that too much chicken was purchased in order to be refrigerated by the caterer. The chicken — not able to be refrigerated — was put into basins with ice. Our natural summer is counterproductive to maintaining ice, so we can assume that a safe temperature was not maintained.
All the participants that became ill had eaten chicken or pasta salad with some sort of dressing on it. A take-home message here is to only use permitted caterers as they have been inspected, thus ensuring proper equipment. If you want to be doubly safe, check to see if they are bonded. It will cost a little more than an un-permitted vendor, but it could save you the expense of a day at the emergency room.
Recently, one of our municipalities had areas that had the water shut off for a substantial period of time. When that happens, it is impossible for a restaurant to operate. Unfortunately, notification was never received at the Health Department, which meant businesses operated far longer than they should have. We were only alerted when a complaint was received, which shows you the value of a complaint. As a rule of thumb, one should not expect fixed food establishments to be operating in areas where you know the water is not operational.
And, finally, plans are being tailored for the annual rabies vaccination clinics that are held at the fire departments across the county, as well the next Spay and Neuter Incentive Program. The local veterinarians and staffs continue to provide tremendous efforts on behalf of your pets’ health. More details will be forthcoming.
Bill Smith is the director of the Robeson County Health Department.