CAMDEN — A Lugoff man’s death has been linked to a salmonella outbreak at a Camden buffet restaurant, state health officials said Wednesday, and the number of others who became ill has risen to at least 176.
DHEC officials have issued a statewide public health advisory for anyone who ate at the Old South Restaurant between Thursday and Sunday, after salmonella cases traced back to the restaurant were reported in Kershaw and Richland counties as well as the Charleston and Rock Hill areas.
Kershaw County Coroner Johnny Fellers confirmed Wednesday that James Arledge, 58, died early Sunday from cardiac arrythmia after getting a blood infection from salmonella. Arledge had not sought medical treatment, Fellers said.
While the salmonella outbreak is not the state’s largest case of foodborne illness in recent years — that occurred in 1996 in Greenville County, when 244 people became ill — it is the largest in DHEC’s Wateree Health District, officials said.
“We would consider this pretty significant,” said Missy Reese, spokeswoman for the district, which includes Kershaw, Sumter, Clarendon and Lee counties.
Old South’s owners, Jeff Hatfield and Jill Steele, voluntarily closed the family-owned restaurant Monday and will not reopen until DHEC completes its investigation, likely in the next couple of weeks, officials said. Efforts to reach the owners Wednesday were not successful.
DHEC investigators hope to narrow down the source of the salmonella by Friday and piece together what happened over the next several days, said Brad Collier, environmental health director for the Wateree district.
“Hopefully, by next week, we’ll have a much better handle,” he said.
Salmonella, which usually comes from undercooked poultry products, has an incubation period of up to 72 hours. Arledge ate turkey and dressing, rice, chicken, peas and apple cobbler Thursday at Old South, DHEC officials said.
In Camden, those familiar with the restaurant, which opened in 1999, say they feel for the owners and for those who fell ill.
“It’s just devastating,” said Rusty Davis, a local musician who performed at in the restaurant Wednesday nights.
Riki Campbell, owner of a Broad Street shopping mall downtown, said many of her customers have been talking about the salmonella outbreak.
“It’s the topic of conversation on everybody’s lips,” Campbell said. “The general feeling is people feel very sorry for them. It could happen to anybody.”
The restaurant has not had past problems with DHEC, Reese said. It had an “A” rating before Thursday, the highest possible, and received the same rating during another DHEC inspection Monday.
Depending on findings from the DHEC investigation, the restaurant could be allowed to reopen, Collier said. If it does, he added, DHEC likely would send staff in to retrain food handlers.
As of late Wednesday afternoon, 25 people had been hospitalized at Kershaw County Medical Center; two at Providence Northeast, two at Palmetto Health Richland, and one at Providence Hospital, all in Columbia; one at the Medical University of South Carolina Hospital and one at St. Francis Xavier Hospital, both in Charleston; and one at Carolina Pines Hospital in Hartsville, according to DHEC officials. Their conditions were not known.
“I think people are going to be leery about going out to eat ... especially at buffet restaurants,” Campbell said.