More than 1,500 professional experts in food safety, men and women on the front lines in the battle to protect America’s food supply from dangerous contamination and deadly germs, attended the National Food Safety Summit convention earlier this month at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Now, in a bizarre twist, more than 100 of the food safety specialists say they got food poisoning at the Food Safety Summit.
The summit was held April 8, 9 and 10 — but it was about 12 hours after a meal was served on the second day of the Food Safety Summit that attendees began reporting that they felt sick after consuming that meal.
Officials with the Maryland Health Department’s outbreak response team then sent out a survey, in an attempt to determine the extent and possible source of the apparent food poisoning. Three weeks after that fateful meal, the numbers of attendees reporting symptoms have cracked triple digits.
The outbreak is being described as gastroenteritis, but that name simply refers to almost any kind of digestive illness characterized by intestinal inflammation. The term can cover a number of diseases from a variety of sources, including viruses, bacterial infection or even parasites.
“We are working on evaluating possible exposures and doing testing at the Maryland state public health laboratory to attempt to identify an agent,” the health officials said in their mailing.
But according to an NBC News report which broke the story, the Maryland health officials still don’t know what caused the Food Safety Summit outbreak.
So far, of the 1,500-plus food safety pros who attended the convention, only 400 have answered the health department questionnaire, so it is possible that the number of food safety professionals with food poisoning is much higher.
The attendees included federal and state health officials from across the country, as well as reps from national food service businesses such as Tyson Foods and McDonald’s fast food restaurants.
Health inspectors examined the convention center as well as the Food Safety Summit food service contractor, Centerplate. Other than a minor violation for condensation dripping from an ice machine, which was fixed right away, the facilities received a clean bill of health.
Centerplate had no violations in a previous inspection.
More than 48 million Americans are struck by food poisoning every year, at a cost of $77 billion in medical care and lost time at work. About 125,000 food poisoning victims annually require hospitalization.
But the cause of the Food Safety Summit food poisonings remain a mystery.