Iowa health officials are investigating about 25 illnesses potentially linked to deli-made potato salads sold by Big G Foods in Marengo, IA. Test results from the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa were presumed positive for Salmonella. “We have approximately 25 cases under investigation. It is possible the investigation may determine some of the 25 cases are unrelated, and it is also possible more cases may be reported to us in the coming days,” said Polly Carver-Kimm, communications director for the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). The store-made “Zesty Potato Salad” and “Traditional Potato Salad” dated July 14-24 were removed from sale and Big G is cooperating with the outbreak investigation. According to the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals (DIA), neither of the potato salads has been sold to the public since July 22. “They’re doing testing, and some sort of cross-contamination is something they’re thinking is possible,” Gary Grafft, co-owner of the store, told Food Safety News on Thursday. He said the family-owned, single-location store has not had a similar incident since the deli opened in 1978. He told the Iowa City Press-Citizen newspaper that a firm from Cedar Rapids, IA, was coming in Thursday to do a deep cleaning and sanitizing of the deli. Two Iowa state agencies issued a joint consumer advisory Monday warning the public about the Big G deli’s potato salads and citing the risk of Salmonella infection. “The bottom line is that no one should eat this product,” IDPH Medical Director Dr. Patricia Quinlisk said in the public warning. “If you have it in your refrigerator, you should throw it away.” Big G reportedly posted the following statement on its Facebook page on Tuesday, however, it was no longer there on Thursday: “We want to make sure all our customers are safe with the purchases they make at Big G. If you have purchased any Big G made potato salad from the full service case dated July 14-24 please throw it away. Something in the salad can make you sick. Bring your receipt in for a full refund.” Mid-day Thursday, a Facebook post from the store reported test results and described how cross-contamination likely occurred: “The states tests have shown a cross contamination that caused the salmonella outbreak. The cleaning of containers that had chicken in them previously cross contaminated the handle sprayer for the three compartment sink to be contaminated. The onions used for the potato salad was not a problem. Big G and the state are working together on a plan of action so this will not happen again.” Also visible Thursday on the store’s Facebook page were numerous conversation threads making charges and counter-charges about illnesses related to consumption of the potato salads and what might have been known about the problem and when. Some of the posts referenced emergency room visits and alleged physical symptoms, and some stated that those who had bought the potato salads were part of a group hosting a funeral. One woman posted that she had been contacted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in connection with the illness of her 6-year-old son. She wrote that the federal agency asked her questions “from the 3rd of July celebration, that is the date where the salmonella outbreak started.” IDPH’s Carver-Kimm could not confirm whether anyone sickened had been hospitalized, but she told Food Safety News that CDC knew about the situation. “Since we are still investigating this outbreak, we have not confirmed any hospitalizations associated with it. The CDC is aware of the outbreaks, but state and local officials are conducting the investigation,” she said. Salmonella infection is relatively common in the United States and has been linked to eating eggs, poultry, meat, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, raw fruits and vegetables, spices and nuts. According to CDC, most people infected with the bacteria develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most individuals recover without treatment. However, CDC states that in some cases diarrhea may be so severe that the patients need to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream, and then to other parts of the body. In these cases, Salmonella can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.
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