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Food poisoning at school results in event catering ban

A food company has been banned from event catering as it was found to be responsible for a severe food poisoning outbreak that sent ten people to hospital.

Environmental Health officers have revealed the outbreak of vomiting and diarrhoea at Mount St Agnes Academy was down to the company’s catering staff being “careless with their personal hygiene”.

Investigations show that the unnamed company served ham contaminated with bacteria at the school’s catered breakfast.

The Government report states that one of the company’s food handlers contaminated the ham as her/his nasal passage was infected with the bacteria. It goes on to say the bacteria was then allowed to multiply because the ham was not stored and transported at the correct temperature.

The worker has since been suspended from handling food and the food business has been banned from catering at outside events.

The food poisoning outbreak saw ten Mount St Agnes Academy staff, including principal Susan Moench, put on intravenous drip feeds and given shots to stabilise their systems at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

They all became violently sick immediately after eating a ‘thank you’ catered breakfast for staff on the last day of term in June.

Mount St Agnes Academy and the Ministry of Health have both refused to name the caterer responsible without giving their reasons for doing so.

The report ruled that it was “a serious breach” but there was no criminal intent and the company was not taking risks to try to maximise profits.

The company therefore continues to operate and has not been prosecuted as this could “irreparably damage a businesses’ reputation”.

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said the company had also been directed to change its operations and restrict its menu. Company staff are also continuing to receive intensive food hygiene education.

The spokeswoman said they were working to protect people’s health and did not tolerate any slips in standards.

She said: “It was evident from the investigation that the food establishment staff had been careless with personal hygiene (hand to mouth contact while preparing food) and poor temperature control during the storage and transport of food to a customer. The food handler in question was a symptom less carrier of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.”

She added: “The food handling practices have been closely scrutinised by the Department, improvements have been required and made.

“The establishment has been compliant and worked to make the required improvements on several fronts to prevent a recurrence. Prevention is the focus of this intervention.”

As previously reported by

The Royal Gazette, Government’s Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit was notified of the potential food poisoning outbreak as soon as the staff fell ill on June 17. One member of staff had to be carried to the ambulance on a stretcher as he was in too much pain to walk.

All 43 breakfast attendees were interviewed and an analysis of the food served was found “a statistically significant association between consumption of ham and illness”.

The premises of the caterer was also examined and the temperature was found to be “favourable to the growth of microorganisms”.

Laboratory tests found the ham was contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus and the stool samples of most of the ill staff tested positive for the same bacteria.

Staphylococcus aureus was also found in the nasal passages of the company’s food handler. It is suggested that s/he could have handled food with bare hands, especially after touching the face or mouth, or had an exposed sore on the hands or arms.

The report summary states it was a “point-source outbreak” of Staphylococcus aureus associated with the ham prepared by the caterer.

It states: “Intoxication by Staphylococcus aureus is characterised by an abrupt onset of vomiting and/or diarrhoea with symptoms occurring within an hour to eight hours after ingestion of the toxin-contaminated food.

“The incubation period and severity of symptoms depends on the amount of toxin consumed as well as an individual’s susceptibility to the toxin.”

However, the report does note that “staphylococci is present in the nasal passages and throats and on the hair and skin of 50 percent or more of healthy individuals”.

Kerry Judd, spokeswoman for Mount St Agnes Academy, said: “We got a copy of the results and we were happy with the investigation. The report identified what it came down to, they were able to identify the food.”

She added: “I can tell you we will not be naming which caterer it was.”

Staff from epidemiology, clinical services, laboratory services and environmental health services carried out the investigation. The Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) was also consulted.

Kerry Judd, spokeswoman for Mount St Agnes Academy.

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Published November 03, 2011 at 10:22 am (Updated November 03, 2011 at 10:21 am)

Food poisoning at school results in event catering ban

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