Football Team Food Poisoning Not Linked to RestaurantNov 6, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Although about 70 people fell ill with food poisoning after attending a football team dinner at a West Geauga High School in Ohio on October 26, contaminants were not found in the food. Football players, cheerleaders, and parents were among the 70 who were sickened at the dinner. Meanwhile, Ohio’s Geauga County Health District has confirmed that the cause of the illness was food-borne.
"For us personally, we feel it clears us of any wrongdoing whatsoever," said Mr. Prots, owner of the Ramble Inn restaurant in Newbury. Prots and his wife donated the food for the event. Peggy Scherer, personal health services director for the county health district, explained that the food-borne illness was caused by bacteria that, in this case, was found in the prime rib that was served. The bacteria, clostridium perfringens, is very common, she said adding that, "It exists in the intestines of healthy individuals and in healthy animals. It's found in the soil." Scherer said cooking does not normally kill the bacteria’s spores, but it does stop them from multiplying. "As long as the food is kept at a temperature above 140 degrees, there usually isn't a problem," she said. "You eat it and don't get sick." If the spores are at a temperature below that, they start to "germinate and multiply," she said.
The issue was a "time and temperature problem," Scherer said. "It was too long at the wrong temperature." But Prots said the equipment at his restaurant was set to 145 degrees. "I set it myself," he said. "We had it there until it was picked up." Food was picked up at around 3:15 and served at 5:30 p.m., resulting in an approximate two-hour window, according to the report. The ideal range for clostridium perfringens to grow is 70 to 120 degrees for an hour and a half. "As we said all along, once the product leaves here, we have no control over what happened," Prots said. "We know we had it at that temperature when it was picked up. We feel this totally vindicates us."
Scherer noted that food servers at the school said that when they brought the food in, they lit the flame underneath the warming trays. "That does not make things real hot," she said. "We suspect that some of the meat that was near the bottom or right near the flame was probably okay, but the meat on top went into a dangerous temperature range." Because of this, those who ate the meat that had more germinating spores became sick, she said. "The toxin that forms is what makes you sick." Scherer pointed out that such illness is common from foods served in large quantities such as at buffets, banquets, or wedding receptions. "The prime rib probably already had this bacteria, but it is not in large amounts until the food comes out of temperature range," she said.
Food tampering has also been discussed and while the police investigation is over, the district is looking into reports made by some students that the food was tampered with.