The Athens Alabama News Courier reported Sunday on the Alabama Department of Public Health Department’s Final Report on last fall’s Salmonella senftenberg linked to a church fundraiser. The Bean Day Athens-Limestone Foundation for Aging event held at First Baptist Church Family Life Center in Athens left a dozen people hospitalized and at least 50 people ill this past October. At the Oct. 4 dinner, 250 to 300 people ate from a menu including white beans with ham, onions, vinegar-based coleslaw, cornbread, soft drinks and a variety of homemade desserts. Public health officials determined that the beans were likely the source of the outbreak, but they did not know how the infection occurred. According to the News Courier, the nine-page study revealed that uncooked beans for the annual fundraiser had been soaked in a plastic-lined horse trough covered with plywood before the event and that existing bean soup was topped off with new bean soup during the event. However, that was just one of the possible ways the beans became contaminated with Salmonella senftenberg, according to the report. While investigators could not determine definitively how, or at what point in preparation, the beans became contaminated, they did conclude in their final report that “opportunities for person-to-food, food-to-food and equipment-to-food cross-contamination or improper holding temperatures” could have been the cause. Among them:

  1. Soaking the beans in a plastic-lined horse trough covered with plywood, with a water hose running water through the trough (the ADPH did not know if or how the trough, which was located at the church, had been used prior to the dinner);
  2. Handling food without gloves;
  3. Turning off the heat source for the beans and disconnecting gas lines for burners without monitoring the temperature of the food;
  4. Transferring the beans in outside cooking pots to a smaller iron pot on wheels to take large quantities of the beans inside the church;
  5. Using one sterno can per 6-inch-deep chaffing pan to maintain the holding temperature of the beans, and,
  6. Re-using chaffing pans and adding new beans to existing beans throughout the serving time.

Salmonella senftenberg was isolated “in two environmental samples obtained from the church, nine food samples and all stool specimens,” according to the report. “The two positive environmental samples were from environment swabs of a dirty strainer and the double sink floor drain at the church.”