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Food sickens parents at teacher conferences

The Evanston Health Department says poor food handling practices are the apparent cause of an outbreak of stomach flu symptoms among parents who attended parent teacher conferences at Haven Middle School last week.

The Evanston Health Department says poor food handling practices are the apparent cause of an outbreak of stomach flu symptoms among parents who attended parent teacher conferences at Haven Middle School last week.

District 65 officials contacted the health department on Thursday, Feb. 17, and reported that 30 people became ill after eating food catered from Merle’s Smokehouse of Evanston at the conference sessions the previous night.

The Evanston Health Department collected samples of the catered food, which were sent to the Illinois Department of Public Health Laboratory in Springfield for testing. Health inspectors were sent to Merle’s Smokehouse at 1727 Maple Ave. to collect food samples and perform a detailed inspection. Results of the test indicated Clostridium perfrigens as the causative agent.

“The outcome of the investigation revealed unsafe food handling and temperature storage at both Merle’s BBQ Restaurant and Haven Middle School and it is therefore unlikely that the exact cause of the outbreak will be determined,” said Evanston Health Director Evonda Thomas.

Based on positive laboratory tests from the food samples, the Evanston Health Department confirmed the bacteria came from the barbeque pulled chicken that was prepared and cooked at Merle’s BBQ Restaurant and delivered to Haven Middle School where it was then served “buffet style” between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

No temperatures were taken at the time of delivery and the food was not kept heated or refrigerated during the time it was being served.

Symptoms of C. perfringes include watery diarrhea and abdominal cramps within 6 to 24 hours (average 8-12). The illness usually begins suddenly and lasts for less than 24 hours. Persons infected with C. perfringens usually do not have fever or vomiting and the illness is not passed from one person to another.

Clostridium perfringes, or C. perfringens is one of the most common causes of food borne illness in the United States and is commonly found on raw meat and poultry.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), C. perfringens forms spores that can survive high temperatures. During cooling and storage at temperatures from 68°F–140°F the spores germinate and then the bacteria grow.

If food is served without reheating to kill the bacteria, or prepared in large quantities and kept warm for a long time before serving, live bacteria might be eaten. The bacteria then produce a toxin inside the intestine that causes illness.

The Health Department continues to work with Merle’s Smokehouse and Haven Middle School to encourage safe practices, policies, and procedures to prevent a future occurrence. Questions regarding the outbreak can be directed to Carl Caneva at 847/859.7831 or email [email protected]

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