ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) - We want to clarify a story that aired Monday on WHNT News 19, and was posted on WHNT.com, about the Athens Bean Day salmonella outbreak last October.
According to a report issued by the Alabama Department of Public Health, beans served to an estimated 300 people at the First Baptist Church Family Life Center were soaked in a plastic lined horse trough covered in plywood.
However, Helen Carter, president of The Athens-Limestone Foundation for Aging, has clarified that the vessel they used was not a used trough.
Carter said it was a new galvanized water container, lined in plastic, to soak the beans.
Carter provided us with a picture of the type of container used.
Carter said this same procedure to soak the beans has been used for 15 years.
In our story, we aired images of a standard trough used to feed horses and cattle.
That video and images we showed were of a used trough, pictured to the right. Our story was intended to illustrate the issue and should not have been interpreted as the trough the Bean Day organizers used had actually been used by a farm animal.
Similarly, a spokesperson with the Alabama Department of Public Health told us the wording of their report was not meant to imply that the vessel had been used by a horse.
Athens Bean Day is a fundraiser for the Athens-Limestone Foundation for Aging.
Twelve people were hospitalized after eating at Bean Day, and as many as 50 others were sick.
The report also states platefuls of beans and ham were sometimes handled without gloves. This was initially determined as the cause of sickness. A thorough investigation was needed to officially determine the point of contamination.
The Alabama Department of Public Health official said a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the usage of the term ‘horse trough.’ The employee said there were many other chances for cross-contamination to occur.
At the October 4 dinner, several hundred festival attendees ate from a menu including white beans with ham, onions, vinegar-based coleslaw, cornbread, soft drinks and a variety of homemade desserts.
Among contributing factors like turning off the heat source for the beans and disconnecting gas lines for burners without monitoring the temperature of the food, the ADPH report says the reuse of chaffing dishes and the topping off of existing bean soup with newly made bean soup in the same container may have played roles in the salmonella infections.
While investigators could not determine definitively how, or at what point in preparation the beans became contaminated, they did conclude in their final report that “opportunities for person-to-food, food-to-food and equipment-to-food cross-contamination or improper holding temperatures” could have been the cause.
Salmonella senftenberg was isolated “in two environmental samples obtained from the church, nine food samples and all stool specimens,” according to the report. “The two positive environmental samples were from environment swabs of a dirty strainer and the double sink floor drain at the church.”
Tri-county area health departments and local health inspectors proved uncooperative in our attempts to gain comment, on camera or otherwise on the Bean Day contamination findings.
We did however, receive a written statement from Helen Carter, president of The Athens-Limestone Foundation for Aging – the nonprofit which helps sponsor the annual Bean Day Event:
“The Bean Day fundraiser has been an annual event held in October that helped support these efforts. For the past five years, the Athens-Limestone Foundation for Aging has organized the event with the help of volunteers.
When our board members were notified there was a possible outbreak of salmonella related to our most recent Bean Day event, we notified the Health Department the Monday morning following the Friday event and cooperated fully with health officials.
The News-Courier ran an article on Sunday, Feb. 2, regarding the Alabama Department of Public Health report. The board had not yet received the report at the time this article ran. The board requested a copy and received it this morning (Monday, Feb. 3).
According to the report, salmonella was found in bean samples as well as a strainer and floor drain. Health officials could not determine how or when the salmonella contamination occurred. The report indicated there were 47 confirmed cases reported by Athens-Limestone Hospital. The event served about 850 people.
Our board is dedicated to helping the community. The board certainly did not intend for an outbreak to occur. Without knowing the exact cause of the contamination, it is difficult to address what could have been done to prevent it.
I will address the following issues, which were raised in The News-Courier article:
● 250 pounds of beans were prepared for Bean Day. Organizers used a new galvanized watering container lined in plastic to soak this amount of beans. This is a procedure that has been used for 15 years.
● Gloves were provided to volunteers.
● Clorox mixed with water was used for cleaning equipment.
● Food was prepared, heated, and served based on about 15 years experience of holding the fundraiser.
The board appreciates those who have always supported and who continue to support the Athens-Limestone Foundation for Aging,” Carter wrote.