In early August of 2003, the Georgia Division of Public Health (GDPH) was notified that four Georgia residents had been confirmed ill with Salmonella Berta infections. As case numbers increased in the following weeks, GDPH staff and staff from various north Georgia health districts interviewed ill individuals. Several cases reported eating at the Golden Corral Restaurant located on Barrett Parkway in Kennesaw, Georgia just prior to symptom onset.
On August 21, 2001 environmental health specialists at the Cobb County Board of Health conducted an on-site inspection at the Golden Corral. Several errors were observed; however, none of these errors was thought to have been a contributing factor in the ongoing Salmonella outbreak.
By August 29, the total number of Salmonella cases linked to the outbreak had climbed to 22 people; five had been hospitalized and one case was fatal. Fifty percent reported eating at the Golden Corral restaurant in Kennesaw in the week prior becoming ill.
A case-control study showed that 23 of 27 Georgia residents who were laboratory confirmed with S. Berta ate at Golden Corral prior to symptom onset. The majority of cases resided in Cobb County. Dates of illness onset ranged from June 7, 2003 through August 31, 2003. None of the more than 100 food items investigated were statistically associated with illness.
Health officials grew increasingly concerned as new data showed that illness was occurring among people who had eaten at Golden Corral as late as August 31, days after the Golden Corral had been inspected on August 21.
The Golden Corral Restaurant voluntarily ceased operation on September 9 after the evening meal was prepared and served. The next morning, a team of epidemiologists and environmental health specialists assembled at the restaurant. Multiple food specimens and environmental samples were collected for bacterial testing at the GPHL.
On Monday, September 15 the GPHL informed investigators that the outbreak-strain of Salmonella had been cultured from a swab collected from a floor drain in the fry area at the restaurant. Now that there was proof that the strain of S. Berta infecting Golden Corral dining patrons had been found in the restaurant’s kitchen, investigators looked for a plausible explanation for the route of exposure which could explain prolonged contamination for several months. Close inspection of food processing equipment identified a defective food dicer that may have served as a reservoir for contamination, but a definitive source was never identified. Nevertheless, Golden Corral was ultimately determined to be the source of the outbreak.
Marler Clark represented nine individuals in claims against Golden Corral. All claims were resolved in 2005.