An “extreme” Salmonella outbreak has been reported at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Winslow. The outbreak occurred in the Kaibab and Coronado Units. Officials say that the outbreak has been contained as of September 7, 2015. All of the units are displaying “open” status as of September 23, 2015.
Two hundred forty of the 1,426 inmates experienced the symptoms of Salmonella food poisoning. The last time an illness was reported was on September 7.
The Arizona Department of corrections worked with public health officials to contain the outbreak. On-site medical care was provided to sick inmates. Lab samples were sent offsite for analysis.
The Salmonella was found in a tossed salad that was served to both units on August 31, 2015, according to Andrew Wilder, director of communications for the Arizona Department of Corrections. Inmates began getting sick on September 3, 2015, which is within the window of incubation time for this bacteria.
We don’t know if an ingredient in that salad is responsible for the illness. There is a nationwide Salmonella outbreak that is ongoing linked to imported cucumbers distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce of San Diego, California. The illnesses could also have been caused by cross-contamination in the kitchen, from a sick food handler, or from another food item in the salad.
While the investigation was underway, inmate meals were prepared off-site. Education about hand hygiene was given to staff and inmates. The facility was sanitized as well.
Prisoners are in a unique situation when it comes to food poisoning outbreaks. Because they are literally a captive population, responsibility rests on the administrators and staff to make sure they are not suffering cruel and unusual punishment. They do not have a choice of where or what they eat.
The symptoms of a Salmonella food poisoning infection include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, chills, headache, muscle pains, and blood in the stool. The symptoms usually begin six hours to three days after exposure to the pathogenic bacteria. Most people recover within four to seven days, but some become so ill they must be hospitalized.
There is no word on whether or not any inmates were hospitalized in this outbreak; according to officials, medical care was provided at the prison. In a typical Salmonella outbreak, 20% of patients are hospitalized because of the seriousness of their illness.
Food poisoning outbreaks at prisons are not uncommon. In 2011, more than 300 inmates and staff at prison in Pennsylvania were sickened with Salmonella linked to contaminated chicken. An outbreak caused by Clostridium perfringens found in chili macaroni sickened 152 teenagers and staff at two juvenile facilities in Kansas. And in Golden Colorado in July 2007, an E. coli outbreak sickened 12% of the 1200 inmates at that facility.
Like all large facilities where people are concentrated, prisons are at high risk for foodborne illness. Crowded conditions, which contribute to person-to-person spread of illnesses, can also play a factor in these outbreaks. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011 stated that “food production in correctional facilities should meet minimum safety standards, including sufficient refrigeration facilities, training of food handlers, and exemption of ill food handlers from work.”