The Florida Department of Health in Columbia County has issued a press release stating that the illnesses that took place at the Science Olympiad at Gateway College in Lake City on February 4, 2017 were caused by Staphylococcus aureus toxin. At least 30 people were taken by ambulance from that event to the hospital after suffering from vomiting.
Samples were taken of the pulled pork, smoked chicken, macaroni salad, chicken sandwiches, and baked beans from the lunch that was served at the event. The samples were tested for Clostridium perfringens, Bacillus cereus, and Staphylococcus aureus, which all can cause food poisoning in a matter of minutes or hours. All of those pathogens can cause food poisoning symptoms relatively quickly. All cause nausea and vomiting, and some can also cause diarrhea.
The samples of pulled pork tested positive for Staphylococcus aureus at “an amount well above the standard cutoff threshold used to confirm a foodborne illness outbreak,” according to the press release. All of those sickened were treated at Lake City Medical Center and Shands Lake Shore and were released the same day.
As the bacteria grow and reproduce, Staphylococcus aureus produces a toxin that makes people sick. It causes vomiting within 30 minutes t0 6 hours after exposure. Most people get better within about 24 hours. This illness is not passed to other persons because it is caused by a toxin, not the bacteria.
Staphylococcus aureus is a salt-tolerant bacteria, so it can grow in foods such as ham and in gravies and sauces. While the bacteria itself is killed by cooking temperatures, the toxin can survive heat. If enough bacteria are present in the food before it is heated, the bacteria can produce enough toxin to make someone sick before the pathogen itself is destroyed in the cooking process.
If you or a member of your family were sickened at this event, please call Sallie Ford, Columbia County Environmental Health Director, to report it. The Florida Department of Health in Columbia County is conducting interviews with anyone who ate the meal at the Science Olympiad. If you are sick, stay home from work or school until you have recovered.