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Food ills hit Brook-Lea again

Club suspects sabotage as police join inquiry

Matt Leingang, Democrat and Chronicle

August 10, 2002

A second wave of salmonella poisoning tied to Brook-Lea Country Club in Gates has triggered a police investigation.

Officials at the club fear someone may be deliberately contaminating its food.

The Monroe County Health Department announced two more confirmed cases of salmonella food poisoning on Friday. Both cases are related to a July 30 golf tournament held at the club, 891 Pixley Road.

A previous county inquiry turned up 87 Monroe County residents with salmonellosis who had eaten meals from June 1 to June 18 at Brook-Lea. That total included five food handlers who worked in the kitchen.

Because the county has seen two outbreaks within such a short time, Gates police are now involved, said county Health Director Dr. Andrew Doniger.

It's not that the county necessarily suspects that someone deliberately contaminated the food, but "we want to be able to rule that out," Doniger said.

However, Brook-Lea's board of governors issued a statement Friday suggesting that this is indeed a criminal case.

"We find it difficult to believe that, in light of all the remedial and preventative steps that we have taken over the past seven weeks, something like this could happen in an accidental manner," the statement said. "In fact, we have strong suspicions that deliberate contamination of food products may have occurred."

The statement did not elaborate on the board's suspicions.

Gates Police Chief Tom Roche would not talk about the investigation, other than to say, "We will assist the county wherever appropriate."

Brook-Lea's kitchen has been closed indefinitely, but golf events continue.

Salmonellosis, usually traced to improper food handling, can cause severe abdominal illness that includes cramps, bloody diarrhea and high fever.

Doniger did not say whether the two people in the latest outbreak were hospitalized.

County health officials never established a "working theory" about the origins of the initial outbreak. At that time, the county closed the facility and mandated that an outside company professionally clean it.

The country club complied.

"We thought we had done everything to prevent this from recurring," Doniger said.

The county is asking that anyone who has recently consumed food at Brook-Lea and who has experienced diarrhea contact his or her physician. Tests will be conducted to determine whether the illness is salmonella.

Many of those with confirmed cases from the initial outbreak have signed on with lawyers, who are investigating legal action.

About 40 of those are now clients of Marler Clark, a Seattle law firm that specializes in food liability issues.

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