The discovery of salmonella in a Steamboat Springs restaurant is an eye-opening experience for the community.
Though the Routt County Department of Environmental Health cannot make a conclusive ruling, it appears the likely source of the bacteria is a batch of fruit, possibly a melon rind, at the Seasons at the Pond Restaurant.
Around Dec. 16, between 15 and 20 people developed symptoms consistent with salmonellosis, the disease caused by salmonella, according to the health department. Some of the individuals became so ill they had to be hospitalized.
The Department of Environmental Health said it is the first time in two years cases of salmonella poisoning have been reported in Routt County. But while reported cases are rare, salmonella poisoning isn't. About 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported each year in the United States, but the total number is likely much higher because milder cases often go unreported, health officials say.
It is unfortunate for Seasons at the Pond that the restaurant wound up with the fruit that likely caused the Steamboat outbreak.
The restaurant has been forthright in dealing with the outbreak and by all accounts has taken significant steps to prevent a recurrence of salmonella in the future, including using bleach to clean melon rinds. No doubt the outbreak has had and will continue to have an impact on business at the restaurant.
But if there is a lesson to be learned from this incident, it is that salmonella can contaminate any kitchen, in a restaurant or in a home. Hopefully, the outbreak has reduced the chances such a contamination will occur by raising awareness of salmonella poisoning and how to prevent it.
For those who are not already aware, here are some important facts to remember:
n Salmonella bacteria thrive at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees. Cooking foods to 165 degrees destroys the bacteria.
n The bacteria are spread through indirect or direct contact with human or animal intestinal contents or excrement. This often can happen at meat processing plants. Therefore, it is important to thoroughly clean working surfaces that have come in contact with raw meat, fish and poultry. Similarly, it is important to thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before eating or preparing them.
n Because the bacteria can be spread by working with contaminated foods, it is imperative for food service workers, as well as those preparing foods at home, to thoroughly clean their hands after working with each different food and after going to the bathroom.
Salmonellosis is not a pleasant experience. The symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and fever.
Though we cannot guarantee foods shipped to our local restaurants and grocery stores are free of contaminants, we can and should be mindful about taking the steps necessary to prevent another salmonella outbreak.