UPDATE: Staph toxin the cause of the Denver Rescue Mission outbreak
In a follow-up to a story reported last month, Denver health officials say that the cause of the outbreak that hospitalized at least 60 at a Denver homeless shelter was Staphylococcus food poisoning.
According to a report in the Denver Post Friday, as part of the investigation into the outbreak, lab results point to a toxin from Staphlococcus aureus bacteria as the cause of illness.
Initial reports suggest the food poisoning outbreak was caused by improperly heated and cooled turkey in addition to poor hygienic practices.
Staphylococcal food intoxication is caused by several of the enterotoxins of Staphylococcus aureus. These toxins are heat-stable and cannot be killed by cooking.
People typically get this usually abrupt food poisoning through eating a food stuff that contains the staphylococcal enterotoxin, especially foods that come in contact with food handler’s hands, either without subsequent cooking or inadequate heating or refrigeration.
Foods most commonly implicated are pastries, custards, salad dressings, sandwiches and meat products. When these foods remain at room temperature for a period (usually a several hours) prior to consumption, the staph bacteria are allowed to multiply and produce the toxin.
The time between eating the offending food product and the onset of symptoms is short, from 30 minutes to 8 hours.
This intoxication presents itself quickly with sometimes violent onset; severe cramps, nausea, vomiting and often accompanied by diarrhea. The illness typically lasts a day or two. Serious complications and deaths are rare.
In an outbreak setting like this, recovery of large amounts Staphylococcus aureus or detection of enterotoxin from the implicated food confirms the diagnosis.
Prevention of staphylococcal food poisoning requires:
- Food handlers must be educated about strict food hygiene, temperature control, handwashing, and sanitation.
- Also the dangers of working with exposed skin, nose or eye infections.
- Those workers with boils, lesions, or abscesses must be temporarily excluded from food handling duties.
- Reduction in food handling time, from initial preparation to service, to a minimum of 4 hours at room temperature. Also proper temperature control must be observed when storing food either hot or cold.