At least 28 children and 2 adults were sickened after eating a catered lunch at the middle school Science Olympiad at Florida Gateway College in Lake City. The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office had a notice posted on its Facebook page that those sickened were taken to hospitals for suspected food poisoning. The event was held on Saturday, February 4, 2017.
Ambulances were called from several counties to help transfer patients to Lake City Medical Center and Shands Lake Shore. Health officials in Columbia county and from the Florida Department of Health are investigating the outbreak. All of the patients were treated and released by Saturday evening.
A meal served at the event is being investigated as the potential source of the illnesses. Officials collected leftover food samples right after the event. The food is being tested at the Bureau of Public Health Laboratories in Jacksonville.
Three bacteria are capable of causing foodborne illness this quickly: Clostridium perfringens, Staphylococcus aureus, and Bacillus cereus. They cause symptoms similar to the symptoms those sickened experienced, including vomiting and stomach cramps. Both bacteria produce toxins in food that make people sick in a short time period. Symptoms usually subside within about 24 hours.
Staphylococcus aureus bacteria itself does not cause illness, but the toxins it produces does. As the bacteria grow, they make the toxins rapidly. The toxins are heat resistant and are not destroyed by cooking. They can also grow in foods that are heavily salted, such as ham or gravies. Illness occurs 30 minutes to 6 hours after ingesting the toxins.
Many types of foods are associated with both bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus food poisoning, including meats, casseroles, gravies, rice, potatoes, pasta, and cheese. Puddings, soups, pastries, and salads are other foods that are often contaminated with these two pathogens. That why it is so important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold when serving.
If you or a family member attended this event and were sickened, please contact Marjorie Rigdon, Director of Nursing of the Florida Department of Health in Columbia County. Her number is 386-758-1334. If you were sickened, stay hydrated, rest, and see your doctor if your symptoms become severe.