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Mushrooms blamed for salmonella

MIKE STARK, Gazette Wyoming Bureau

CODY, Wyo.--Canned mushrooms apparently were to blame for a salmonella outbreak at a local restaurant that sickened at least 32 people from six states.

Several food items from Sunset House restaurant in Cody were tested for salmonella in Cheyenne after people reported becoming sick.

"The mushrooms definitely were a link but we're not sure exactly how they got contaminated. It looks like it was more in handling and preparation," said Laurie Leis, manager of consumer health services for the state Department of Agriculture.

The restaurant closed last week after reports that about a dozen people had become sick. The number of confirmed cases had risen to 32 on Monday.

The restaurant is expected to reopen this week. The building has been thoroughly cleaned and employees underwent food-handling training on Friday, Leis said.

"They have been extremely cooperative," said Leis, who added that the restaurant has a very good health record.

State officials tracking the outbreak say the people who got sick ate at the restaurant between April 25 and May 10. Many of the cases were from May 8-10, according to Scott Seys, deputy state epidemiologist.

Sickened customers ranged from children to people in their 80s, he said. Cases linked to the restaurant were reported by residents of Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Wisconsin and Ohio.

"It was pretty widespread," he said.

Salmonella is a group of microscopic bacteria that pass from the feces of people or animals to other people or animals. Typical symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that start 12 to 72 hours after infection.

The symptoms typically last four to seven days and most people recover without treatment.

Seys said he didn't know of any serious complications related to the outbreak in Cody, but some people had to go to the hospital because they were dehydrated.

State officials are still trying to figure out exactly how the outbreak started and spread.

The usual suspects in passing salmonella -- poultry and eggs -- tested negative for the bacteria, Leis said. Canned mushroom and lettuce from the restaurant showed signs of salmonella, Leis said.

State officials figure the contamination probably was the result of how it was handled because there was no indication of salmonella in previously unopened cans of mushrooms.

The task now is to find out whether the food was contaminated by coming in contact with other food or by the way it was prepared, Leis said.

Meanwhile, the restaurant and state officials are working together to instruct all employees on proper food handling and to make sure the restaurant is ready to reopen soon.

"They have cleaned the facility from top to bottom and everything in between," Leis said. "We want to make sure it's safe to reopen and so do they."

About 40,000 cases of salmonellosis, the infection caused by salmonella, are reported in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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