Louisiana Health Department traced back the recent Salmonella outbreak to a Jambalaya served at a local softball fundraiser. So far, health officials have identified 158 cases of food poisoning associated with the contaminated fundraiser meal.

Out of the 158 individuals diagnosed with a gastrointestinal illness, 40 were in need of hospital care. As of October 23, health officials announced that almost all the food poisoning patients were discharged. Victims of the outbreak ranged from 10 to 82 years old, with the median age of 37.

Source of bacteria still unknown

Epidemiologists of the health department are still identifying the specific ingredient/s that contaminated the jambalaya.

The chicken and sausage jambalaya were served during a local softball fundraiser held October 16 in Columbia.

Health officials collected 19 samples of the contaminated jambalaya for testing. Of those, five tested positive for salmonella. Laboratory testing of the victims’ sample showed the second pathogen in the jambalaya, the harmful Clostridium perfringens.

The presence of C. perfringens, along with salmonella, in the jambalaya might be the reason why many people were affected and became ill quickly. C. perfringens is a bacterium commonly found in raw meat and poultry. Like salmonella, C. perfringens can quickly multiply in foods not prepared properly and stored in incorrect temperatures.

Symptoms of salmonella may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Infected individuals may present symptoms within six to 72 hours after exposure.

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However, symptoms may also appear a week after the exposure.

C. perfringens may also cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Health care providers warned that individuals infected with either of the bacteria are at high risk of developing dehydration, which frequently needs hospitalization.

The Louisiana health department is encouraging people who bought jambalaya, or other side dishes that may have come in contact with the contaminated meal, to contact the department and cooperate with the investigation. Consumers are also urged to throw the contaminated foods away.

Foodborne disease outbreak remains a serious health risk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines foodborne disease outbreak as an event when two or more people get the same illness and investigation shows that it came from the same contaminated foods or drinks. CDC monitored between 21 and 57 potential food poisoning or related cluster each week last year. Additionally, they also investigated more than 200 multistate outbreaks in 2016.

About one million cases of foodborne illnesses in the United States every year were attributed to salmonella. CDC estimates that salmonella causes 19,000 hospitalization and 380 deaths every year.

The best way to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses is observing proper food handling and preparation. Contamination of food and drink may occur in all stages of productions. Unsanitary surfaces and cooking materials, as well as improper food preparation, can contribute to the spread of contaminants.