While some public health officials on Thursday hunted for the source of a salmonellosis outbreak at a Kennesaw restaurant, others fielded more than 80 telephone calls, many from people who said they fell ill after eating at the Golden Corral.
The Barrett Parkway restaurant will remain closed until next week, when test results on the presence of the troublesome bacteria salmonella are available, said Charles Winston, owner of 12 Golden Corrals in metro Atlanta.
Salmonellosis, which can trigger fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, is caused by one of 2,000 strains of the salmonella bacteria. The outbreak linked to the Kennesaw Golden Corral killed one person and sickened more than 20.
Investigators on Thursday returned to the restaurant for the fourth time since Aug. 21 to try to pinpoint the source of the bacteria. They found no sign of the bacteria in Aug. 21 and 22 inspections. They also took samples Wednesday.
They took more samples from food-processing equipment in the restaurant on Thursday, said Dr. Susan Lance-Parker, an epidemiologist with the state Division of Public Health.
It will be Monday at the earliest before it is known whether those samples contain the bacteria that caused the illnesses, she said.
"Unfortunately, in these sorts of investigations, it's common not to find the source," Lance-Parker said.
Winston said restaurant workers spent Thursday breaking down equipment that normally isn't taken apart, cleaning it and reassembling it.
"We're throwing out any food that was open, anything that is perishable, anything that is not in its original container," Winston said.
An estimated 1.4 million cases of salmonellosis cause 16,000 hospitalizations and 600 deaths in the United States each year, said Anna Bowen, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms generally occur one to three days after exposure but can be delayed for as long as a week. Salmonellosis generally is not life-threatening but can be fatal in the elderly or people with depressed immune systems.
Salmonella berta, the strain involved in the Cobb County outbreak, is rare, accounting for fewer than 1 percent of cases, Bowen said.
Only two other outbreaks involving the strain have been reported to the CDC in recent years. Contaminated beef brisket caused eight people to become ill on the West Coast in 1990, and unpasteurized cheese containing the berta strain sickened 82 people in Ontario in 1994.
In the Golden Corral case, investigators thought the outbreak was over in mid-August. But after more cases appeared this month, the restaurant closed voluntarily Tuesday.
Several factors can lead to new cases of salmonellosis after an outbreak appears contained, said Bowen, who is not involved in the Golden Corral probe and spoke generally about the bacteria.
Contaminated food can be frozen, thawed and re-served, she said. Equipment involved in food preparation -- gloves, knives, cutting boards -- can be tainted and used on other food. And people infected with the bacteria who don't become ill can unknowingly spread the germ to others.
People who believe they became ill after eating at the restaurant can call Cobb County Public Health at 770-514-2432.