A handheld kitchen stick blender contaminated with Salmonella caused a mass food poisoning outbreak in Brisbane, Australia, this past spring. According to health investigators, the bacteria were found on several kitchen utensils and had “incubated” during the cooking process. At least 250 people who attended a convention for school principals held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre in late February were reportedly sickened with a foodborne illness, and 24 were hospitalized. Test results from the outbreak investigation revealed that those sickened had the same strain of Salmonella found on a kitchen stick blender, which, they said, “demonstrates the source of the outbreak.” Their findings ruled out the possibility that the outbreak was caused by eggs being contaminated with Salmonella before they arrived at the event venue. Notes on the documents indicated that poor cleaning and sanitizing of the stick blender was “the ultimate cause” of the outbreak, and that the Salmonella had not been killed during the cooking process because the temperatures were not high enough. Further, a food safety audit found E. coli, which was blamed on a breakdown in cleaning and sanitizing processes and poor hand-washing practices, while Salmonella were found on a large robotic mixer and Bacillus cereus were found on a smaller mixer, a pastry brush and a whisk. The convention center’s general manager said that the blender has been removed, and whole eggs are no longer on the menu. “This means no eggshells, which potentially carry pathogens, will ever come into BCEC’s kitchens,” said Robert O’Keeffe. He noted that the incident was the first of its type in the convention center’s 20-year history. “Since the reported cases of illness, we have undertaken independent food safety audits, continued our testing processes for the sourcing, processing and delivery of safe food to our guests,” he said. “All of our cooking practices and processes are monitored and recorded on our 24-hour computerized food safety monitoring system.” The Brisbane City Council is now considering whether to prosecute the operators, with a decision due by the end of this year. The convention center lost its five-star food safety rating from the council after the test results came out.
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