Health Department Investigating Possible Food-Borne Illness On UTC Campus

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department on Monday began investigating complaints of an illness associated with individuals who consumed food on campus at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  A number of people have reported illness and developed symptoms such as fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Following standard protocol, the Health Department is conducting an investigation to determine the cause of the illness. The university is cooperating with the Health Department’s procedures. Inspections of the university’s food establishments and a review of its food-handling practices and cooking procedures are being conducted, along with interviews and testing of those who reported an illness. The unannounced inspections of the University food services revealed no specific problems or mishandling of food and scores of 95 and 99 were received on these inspections.

Twenty-five ill persons have been identified with symptoms of prolonged diarrhea, fever and chills which started as early as Aug. 20. So far, there are lab confirmed cases of salmonella  and campylobacter. These results are highly suggestive of a chicken product but it is uncertain at this time. A specific source of the illness caused by these bacteria has not been identified, but the investigation is ongoing.  There is no evidence of continuing illness.

Both salmonella and camplyobacter gastrointestinal infections can cause diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever; campylobacter may cause bloody stools with nausea and vomiting. The illness may last five to seven days and most persons do not require treatment other than oral fluids, though some can become seriously ill.

These two organisms are most often associated with raw or undercooked chicken products and are a frequent cause of food-borne illness. Though contaminated foods are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk or eggs, any food, including fruits and vegetables, may become contaminated. Thorough cooking kills both salmonella and campylobacter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all persons follow these food-handling practices to prevent food borne infections, including those from salmonella and campylobacter: 

  • Cook all poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly. Make sure that the meat is cooked throughout (no longer pink) and any juices run clear. Ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: 165°F for all poultry, 145° for whole meats, 160° for ground meats.
  • Never eat raw or lightly cooked (runny whites or yolks) eggs.
  • Do not eat or drink foods containing raw (unpasteurized) milk.
  • If you are served undercooked meat, poultry or eggs in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking.
  • Wash hands with soap before preparing food
  • Wash hands with soap after handling raw foods of animal origin and before touching anything else.
  • Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen by using separate cutting boards for foods of animal origin and other foods and by thoroughly cleaning all cutting boards, countertops, and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw food of animal origin.
  • Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
  • Make sure that persons with diarrhea, especially children, wash their hands carefully and frequently with soap to reduce the risk of spreading the infection.
  • Do not prepare food for others if you have diarrhea or vomiting.
  • Wash hands with soap immediately after coming in contact with pet feces or after handling reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes), birds or baby chicks, even if the animal is healthy.

UTC students or employees who experience prolonged diarrhea, fever and chills - or who may have done so recently- are encouraged to contact the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department at 423-209-8190 or the UTC Student Health Center at 423 425-2266.

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