In early April, attendees of Baltimore's 2014 Food Safety Summit got a real-life lesson in warding off food safety issues that can cause gastroenteritis — when 100 of them left the event infected with the stomach bug. Many of the conference attendees work for governmental institutions charged with keeping food safe at some of the largest food distributors in the world, like McDonald's. Leave it up to these guys to report food poisoning: Four people called the Baltimore City Health Department after experiencing symptoms, leading the city to send out a survey asking attendees whether they felt sick after leaving the event.
Well, the results are in, and there was definitely something in the water (or food) at the event: 100 people have reported that they fell ill after attending the conference. At least 1,300 people attended the summit, including staff from federal agencies charged with keeping food safe, like the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of the businesses those agencies regulate, including McDonald’s, Tyson, and ConAgra Foods, were also in attendance, according to NBC News.
Officials are still trying to figure out what caused the outbreak, as they wrote in a letter on the incident last week.
We are working on evaluating possible exposures and doing testing at the Maryland state public health laboratory to attempt to identify an agent.
And Sara Luell, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said in a statement that no one was seriously affected by the incident.
Although we are in the initial stages of the investigation, there are currently no reported hospitalizations or deaths related to these illnesses. There are also currently no reports of illnesses associated with other conferences at the Baltimore Convention Center. The investigation is ongoing.
That department's Division of Outbreak Investigation was responsible for sending out a survey to attendees asking whether or not they'd gotten sick after the conference. The original Survey Monkey link the department sent out was later posted on a blog and had to be closed down, slowing down the investigation because the department couldn't figure out which respondents had really attended the Summit. The email they sent read in part:
We have not yet determined how people became ill, and we want your help to do so, even if you did not get sick. Please assist us by answering some questions regarding your time at the convention, whether or not you became ill.