A Salmonella outbreak that sickened at least 47 people at an event in Athens, AL, in October 2013 now has the event organizers disputing facts in the final outbreak report just released by the Alabama Department of Public Health. The Athens-Limestone Foundation for Aging organized the Athens Bean Day Event at a local Baptist Church, which the health department says 250-300 people attended and that several dozen later fell ill with Salmonella senftenburg infections. Attendees ate a number of dishes, including a dish of white beans and ham, which investigators suspected as the cause of the outbreak. They weren’t able to determine exactly how the beans became contaminated, however, and instead listed a number of possibilities, including potential cross-contamination from the horse trough in which the beans were soaked. But the event organizers say that the 250 pounds of beans were soaked in a brand-new trough lined with plastic – the way they have done it for the past 15 years of the fundraiser. That was the only way to serve the 850 people they say attended the event, roughly three times the number cited by the health department, according to Foundation President Helen Cart. In a letter addressing the controversy, Carter added that volunteers used gloves, prepared food according to 15 years of experience holding the fundraiser, and cleaned equipment using a Clorox solution. According to the health department’s report, at least some volunteers handled food items without gloves. The report also said the heat sources for the beans were turned off without the food temperature being continually monitored. Investigators found Salmonella on strainers used to strain the beans and in the drain that ran water from the trough, but again they could not determine how exactly the Salmonella contaminated the equipment. “How or at what point during the food preparation the beans became contaminated with [Salmonella] senftenburg cannot be definitively determined,” the report said, “but the environmental inspection and interviews suggests opportunities for person to food, food to food, and equipment to food cross contamination or improper holding temperatures.” As such, the investigation has concluded without any clear answer. The health department gave the event organizers a number of recommendations for how to avoid cross-contamination in the future, including washing surfaces with hot soapy water before preparing each food item and avoiding direct contact between raw food and ready-to-eat food during transport, storage and preparation. Carter said that the organization fully cooperated with the health department’s investigation and that the event organizers are only dedicated to helping the community. “The board certainly did not intend for an outbreak to occur,” Carter wrote. “Without knowing the exact cause of the contamination, it is difficult to address what could have been done to prevent it.”