An apparent foodborne illness outbreak in Decatur, AL, that sickened 19 people and may have killed one of them has state health officials stymied about the specific cause. More than 200 people attended a luncheon May 30 at Bridge Builders Church in Decatur sponsored by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. However, according to the sponsor, the food served at the event (reportedly chicken with a sauce, salad and roll) was provided by others. Several people who were at the event later became ill, but health officials said because there was a delay of more than a week before they were informed, by then it was too late to adequately investigate the outbreak and pinpoint the cause. A 71-year-old man who reportedly attended the luncheon and became ill went to the hospital two days later. According to his family, he died a few days after that. Alabama State Epidemiologist Mary McIntyre, M.D., told Food Safety News that the delay in reporting from health care and hospital personnel made it difficult to link the problem to a particular event and test food items for the possible source of the illnesses. “The event occurred on May 30, and a lot of the information that would have been available is no longer available. We are not able to do any food testing because the food was not available,” she said. While it is known that the particular event was a luncheon attended by volunteers, McIntyre said public health officials cannot establish for certain that the food served there was the source of the illnesses. “There’s association and causation. Just because something appears to be associated does not mean it is the cause,” she explained. “A person has a history of attending the event, but whether the event is the cause of [the illness], we will never know.” It is also known that nine individual specimens were tested by hospital and private labs, and three came back positive, McIntyre said. “We identified nine specimens with association based on interviews. Six were negative of the nine. One was positive for E. coli, one was positive for Salmonella, and one was positive for E. coli and Salmonella,” she said. The particular E. coli serotype was not identified, she noted, but it was not O157:H7. As a result of this incident, the department has been trying to focus on education and getting public health officials involved as soon as possible, McIntyre said. “We actually have 24/7 reporting,” she noted. “There is no reason to have this come in so late to us. When health care providers and emergency room hospitals know they have two or more people who are ill, somebody needs to pick up the phone and give us a call.” The department has a campaign to go out to schools and churches in Alabama to focus on foodborne illnesses and is also reaching out to media outlets and others for help to get the information out, she added. Another recent foodborne outbreak in Alabama sickened at least 14 people with Salmonella. Those cases were linked to the El Patron restaurant in Russellville, which was temporarily closed for two weeks but reopened on Monday.