Public health officials have determined that Staphylococcal aureus (Staph) enterotoxin is the source behind more than 100 foodborne illnesses among bus drivers who shuttled crowds to and from the Coachella Festival in California.

The festival was on April 15-17 and 22-24 and officials immediately began investigating reports of illnesses after the second weekend of the event. At least 45 bus drivers went to hospitals with symptoms in Riverside County, with others reporting illnesses but not seeking medical attention. Public health officials in Riverside County, where the festival was held, have said dozens more illnesses were likely reported outside its jurisdiction.

On May 13 Riverside County announced that tests of catered food served to the bus drivers had tested positive for Staphylococcal aureus (Staph) enterotoxin. 

“Tests conducted on food collected after dozens of employees of a shuttle bus company became ill last month detected a bacterial toxin that can cause the symptoms described by those who became sick,” according to a statement from the county public health department.

“A state health department laboratory reported this week that Staphylococcal aureus (Staph) enterotoxin was detected in the food sample collected by a Los Angeles County resident who became ill shortly after eating a dinner catered for employees of a shuttle bus company on April 24.”

The public health statement did not identify a specific food or caterer. But, local media reported that the meals in question included fettuccine, meatballs, premixed salad, and bread, and carne asada burritos, chicken, and rice, according to a report from News Channel 3 in the Coachella Valley.

“Officials with the Riverside County Department of Environmental Health confirmed to News Channel 3 that the two facilities are Sacher Enterprises, a commissary kitchen, and Croux & Co., a local catering company,” according to the local news report.

During the public health department’s investigation its employees interviewed hundreds of people.

“Through collaboration with Environmental Health and the vendor, we have been able to interview hundreds of people who attended the dinner with the idea of determining the circumstances around the meal,” Kim Saruwatari, director of the Riverside County Public Health Department said in an outbreak update on May 13. “The goal was to identify the specific food or item that caused so many to become ill.”

The county cited information from the CDC about Staphylococcal aureus (Staph) enterotoxin. 

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), staphylococcal food poisoning results from eating food contaminated with toxins produced by this bacteria. The toxin can cause of a variety of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea,” states the update from the county. 

“According to the CDC, the best way to avoid food poisoning by Staph is to prevent perishable food from being held at room temperature for more than two hours.”

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