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Church dinner at Legion post on Thanksgiving ends in tragedy

clostridiumperfringens_406x250The Antioch, CA Thanksgiving dinner tragedy spread beyond one family to cause at least 19 illnesses including three deaths, local health officials say.

All the victims attended a Thanksgiving dinner that served 800. It was put on at the Antioch American Legion Hall by the Golden Hills Community Church with food prepared in private homes.

The event was produced without obtaining any permits, which would not have permitted food from private homes or from unlicensed facilities.

How the dinner was depicted has changed as it unfolded this week. On Monday, there were three deaths and five illnesses all limited to one family who did attend the dinner at the legion.  Health officials did not view it as either an outbreak or ongoing event.

On Tuesday, it became an outbreak with illnesses reported by nine others who attended the church dinner.

Mashed potatoes and stovetop stuffing was made at the American Legion and green beans were warmed up there, and everything else came from the homes of volunteers.

Food safety attorney William Marler suspects the source of the illneses and three deaths was clostridium perfringens, a bacteria known for occurring in undercooked meats that are left to sit for a long period of time. (Marler is also publisher of s.Food Safety News.)

Contra Costa County health officials have sent samples to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for laboratory analysis, but it could be months before results are returned.

The three deaths involve people who came to the church dinner from assisted living facilities. Taking residents to the dinner has become a tradition for the facilities,  according to a spokesman.

Dr. Marilyn Underwood, environmental health director for Contra Costa Environmental Services, says next year her department will be working with the church and she does think the event should be permitted.

Editor’s Note:   This story was last updated on Dec. 2 to add two additional victims to the count.   Health officials said the two additional cases involve people who recovered on their own.

 

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