Barton County Health Department Director Shelly Schneider says she has no reason to believe that the recent outbreak of gastrointestinal illness in Barton County was connected to romaine lettuce, although a national food safety alert has been issued on the leafy vegetable.
“This is more than likely an isolated instance,” Schneider said of the sudden outbreak that occurred Nov. 9 at a private business in Barton County.
“Preliminary results indicate Staphylococcus aureus was the cause of this outbreak. Staph food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by the Staph bacteria. Through ... investigation, it was determined some of the food served may have been held at an unsafe temperature.”
Schneider talked about the local outbreak at Monday’s Barton County Commission meeting, but because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Schneider did not name the private business where the outbreak occurred, or go into specific details.
Meanwhile, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have announced a multi-state E. coli outbreak is underway, and that outbreak is being blamed on romaine lettuce.
CDC is advising that U.S. consumers not eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any, until more is learned about the outbreak.
Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick.
This advice includes all types or uses of romaine lettuce, such as whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad.
If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine or whether a salad mix contains romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.
Wash and sanitize drawers or shelves in refrigerators where romaine was stored.
The local outbreak
Schneider said the Barton County Health Department, Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department of Agriculture are investigating the local outbreak.
On Tuesday she issued additional safety tips for food handling as recommended by the CDC, KDHE and Barton County Health Department:
• The best way to avoid food poisoning by Staph is to prevent food from being held at an unsafe temperature (between 40°F and 140°F) for more than two hours.
• Use a food thermometer and cook food to their safe minimum internal temperature.
• Keep hot foods hot (140°F or hotter) and cold foods cold (40°F or colder).
• Store cooked food in wide, shallow containers and refrigerate within 2 hours (or 1 hour if it’s hotter than 90°F outside).
• Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food, and before eating.
More information on Staph food poisoning can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/diseases/staphylococcal.html