Hundreds Poisoned by Contaminated Chicken at Food Safety Summit


The news: Yes, you read that headline correctly, and no, this is not the Onion.

In a rather unbelievable and ironic turn, hundreds of food-safety experts found themselves sick at a Baltimore convention back in April. And now, in a newly released report by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, we know the cause: food poisoning by way of bad chicken.

Out of around 1,300 attendees at the Food Safety Summit, 216 ended up suffering from an outbreak of gastroenteritis after eating Chicken Marsala from the buffet line, prepared by the convention center's in-house catering company. The most likely scenario: The chicken was not kept at the proper temperature, and was contaminated by the Clostridium perfringens bacterium.

"The frequency of signs and symptoms, duration of illness, and possible incubation period were consistent with outbreaks caused by C. perfringens. In this outbreak, almost all of the cases had diarrhea and only 10 percent reported vomiting, which is typical of outbreaks caused by C. perfringens," the report found.

At least the crowd knew what to do: They say if you're going to have a heart attack, there's no better place than a hospital, and the adage proved itself true in this case. According to the report, the health department was notified about the outbreak not by the caterer, the convention center or the organizers, but from the attendees themselves, who recognized signs of food poisoning and called Baltimore's 311 service.

And while gastroenteritis is never fun, this outbreak has served as a real-life example to prove the convention's point that food safety really is important. And it looks like the organizers have learned a valuable lesson from the event: In a statement, Food Safety Summit personnel announced that they are working with the convention center and caterers "to insure that an outbreak of this nature does not happen again."