Salmonella sickens 25 banqueters


Health department says Clarkston Quality Inn is safe

Twenty-five Coleman Oil employees were diagnosed with salmonella following a March 6 banquet at the Clarkston Quality Inn, valley health department officials said Wednesday.

All of the 88 people who attended the company banquet, where Mexican-style food was served, have been contacted and the incident appears to be isolated, said Juan Caballero, environmental health director for the Asotin County Health Department.

The department is working in conjunction with the North Central Health District in Lewiston to identify the cases, since most of the people at the event live in Idaho, said Carmel Donohue, administrator of the Asotin County Health Department.

Caballero said he has conducted several thorough inspections of the Quality Inn and its kitchen and has observed the conduct of its food service staff since the department became aware of the incident. He said he is satisfied with the inspections and added the department is confident there is no reason to close the restaurant.

"I ate there last night, that's how confident I am," Donohue said.

This is the first time such an incident has occurred at the Quality Inn, said Curt Johnson, its general manager.

"We are probably as sick and devastated as the people who attended," Johnson said.

A questionnaire form was sent out to involved individuals by the health department, Caballero said. And all doctors in the valley have been alerted to be on the lookout for people who exhibit signs of salmonellosis, the infection caused by salmonella bacteria.

Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The health department received the first call on the incident March 11, Caballero said.

The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment. In rare cases the infection is more severe and may require hospitalization.

Salmonella is usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal and are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk or eggs, but all foods, including vegetables may become contaminated.

Thorough cooking kills Salmonella. Transmission of the bacteria is "fecal to oral," Donohue said. So food may also become contaminated by the unwashed hands of an infected food handler.

None of the food servers or persons working during the banquet were found to be ill, Caballero said.

Salmonella bacteria differ, so samples of the strain that caused this incident have been sent to a lab to be identified for tracking and identification purposes, Caballero said.

The health department is continuing to monitor the incident for signs of a secondary outbreak from infected individuals passing the illness to others, Caballero said.

Individuals experiencing any symptoms are asked to contact a doctor, as a test can be done to determine if the illness is being caused by Salmonella. Information also can be obtained through the local health department offices.