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Crab Shack restaurant named in chowder cook-off outbreak

A specific restaurant has been identified as the source of clam chowder responsible for a Salmonella javiana outbreak among people who attended a cook-off on the Virginia barrier island of Chincoteague.

Laboratory testing found the outbreak strain of the bacteria in a sample of chowder prepared by a restaurant identified only as “Crab Shack” by local and state health officials. The address of the implicated restaurant was not provided.

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As of Wednesday, local health officials reported a 10 percent hospitalization rate among the 180 known outbreak victims. The sick people are spread across at least nine states.

“The Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) in Richmond, VA, first identified Salmonella javiana in human specimens that were submitted by healthcare providers and health officials (who collected them) from event attendees who reported gastro-intestinal illness,” according to an outbreak update posted by the Virginia Department of Health.

“Now, DCLS has identified Salmonella javiana in a sample of Crab Shack Clam Chowder that was obtained from an attendee served during the event, consistent with the exposure results of the online attendee survey. Approximately 500 survey responses, from both ill and non-ill attendees, were recorded in 18 days.”

A pubic information officer for the department said Wednesday that public health officials had been in communication with the operators of the implicated restaurant, but he declined to provide specific details. He said the final report on the outbreak is expected to be completed in the next 30 days.

Several restaurants on Chincoteague Island — best known for its wild ponies made famous by Marguerite Henry’s book “Misty of Chincoteague” — have “Crab Shack” in their names.

Five chowder vendors are listed in the public health survey posted by outbreak investigators:

  • Andy Suchoski
  • Anne Cairns
  • Chincoteague High School
  • The Crab Shack
  • Don’s Seafood

Officials estimate 2,000 to 2,500 people attended the Sept. 30 event, which was the 18th annual Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company’s Chowder and Chili Cook-off. The wife of one attendee reported on the Chincoteague Island Locals and Guests Facebook page that lab tests showed her husband positive for E. coli and Salmonella.

Health officials are still waiting on test results for samples collected as part of the outbreak investigation.

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