In September 2003, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) began to get reports of Shigella infections. Their investigation led them to the Doubletree Hotel in Westminster, CO, which was a common link for the infected parties. Two large groups of hotel guests were identified - a wedding party and a World War II veterans reunion, with attendees from a number of different states. Members of both groups, as well as a random sample of hotel guests, were contacted and interviewed. Ten individuals were diagnosed with culture-confirmed cases of Shigella sonnei infections.
After three food handlers at the hotel also tested positive for Shigella, additional interviews of kitchen staff were conducted. A kitchen chef cultured positive; he had worked September 4-6, had illness onset of September 8, and continued to work September 9-13.
Once the investigation was concluded, the report identified the following critical outbreak findings:
- epidemiologic and environmental evidence implicated the honeydew melon served at the breakfast buffet
- there was no evidence of hotel staff contaminating the honeydew melon
- some practices by the kitchen food handlers were not optimal, and
- the honeydew melons were traced back to two farms in California, but the investigation was inconclusive as to the possible source of contamination at those farms.
The CDC report, in part, also recommended that the hotel adopt the following procedures: hotel food handlers should not prepare or serve food if ill; preparation of raw fruits should minimize contamination from the peel or rind; employees should be trained to monitor food temperatures; employees should wash their hands thoroughly; and food service training should be required of restaurant staff.
Marler Clark represented three of the wedding party who became ill with Shigella infections after attending a reception held at the Doubletree Hotel.