Clarification: Beans for Athens Bean Day Soaked In New Galvanized Container, Not Used Horse Trough

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Picture of a galvanized water container. Helen Carter, President of the The Athens-Limestone Foundation on Aging, provided us with this picture and said this is what was used to soak the beans.

ATHENS, Ala. (WHNT) – We want to clarify a story that aired Monday on WHNT News 19, and was posted on, 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.

Picture of a galvanized water container. Helen Carter, President of the The Athens-Limestone Foundation on Aging, provided us with this picture and said this is what was used to soak the beans.

Picture of a galvanized water container. Helen Carter, President of the The Athens-Limestone Foundation on Aging, provided us with this picture and said this is what was used to soak the beans.

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.

A standard trough used to feed horses and cattle.

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.

Previous Report

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.


  • Jim

    “You read right – plastic lined as it was – a horse trough.” well I was hoping there was more to it than the implied used horse trough as this article implies…the agency who sponsored the event said “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.”

    Well that is much better than the article implied…It was a new galvanized watering container which was lined with plastic. Sounds like to me the organizers used ordinary caution in doing this, they even lined it with plastic. Perhaps the in the future a food grade container could be used instead of that type of device. I personally don’t fault them for that use since it was new. It would of been another think to use a used one..

  • nuclear mike

    All it takes is to NOT follow the proper food preparations just ONCE while preparing the meal for so many unsuspecting people…I guess next year your better microwave each bowl for 60 seconds before dishing out the beans…one can expect next year there will not be so many supporters there to “break bread” again knowing the risks they assume…

  • Ted

    I definately won’t go…..Bento Box in Madison- ginger beef, put my wife and me down within hours after consuming. WE WILL NEVER GO THERE AGAIN!!!!

    • Wyk

      I can say that while I did not prepare the food, I know for a fact that the people that prepared it are honest, hardworking citizens of our community. I volunteered at the event as a server, ate everything provided and was lucky that I did not get sick. This was just an unfortunate circumstance. I applaud Channel 19 for setting the record straight and hope the Foundation on Aging can continue to have events such as this that raises money for a great cause.

  • Over and out

    Honestly, when I watched the report last night, I was floored by what I think is the lack of truth in the story. This is sensationalism at the worst I have ever seen on a local news.

    If you are going to show a horse trough, then please, show a new one, like they used. Also, they replied to this hours before the news cast, so please include that.

    They also talked how restaurant people would be appalled to do this. Who did you talk to to form that opinion? You did not interview anyone for that, so it must be just an opinion that you dreamed up.

    There is 2 sides to this story. David Wood just showed one so that he could get people to be up in arms. SHAME! Even TMZ would not do that.

    You lost a longtime loyal viewer. Sorry Jerry and Jason.

  • Disappointed viewer!

    This story is irresponsible journalism, using sensationalism and manipulation to get ratings. Going to a horse farm to show a horse trough is not a fair, hmm how did you say it, illustrative purpose. It would be the equivalent to showing trash men picking up trash on their route to compare to restaurants who use similar containers to make cole slaw or other foods. Or acting like a popular party gift of a diaper cake is foul because it is made out of unused diapers. Seriously, it was new item, which truly makes it a galvanized tub until a horse uses it.

    Then there was the allusion that the official source of the bacteria was the horse trough. I seriously doubt that was the case. If you feel that it was then you should responsibly do a report on the dangers of using a galvanized tubs to store sodas or bottled water at outdoor parties and weddings. Who in Alabama has not reached into a tub of ice to pick out a drink in one of those tubs or horse trough? Then, without sterilizing the bottle, opened it and taken a sip.

    Lastly, I am appalled that other members of your team made comments when they themselves know the importance of fundraising for non-profit organizations. This accident is already damaging to the event. An event that helps so many people in the county. Why would you so irresponsibly make a report when so many people will already be hurt. If it had been a used trough then by all means report it, but this was not the case. This was simply someone who wanted their story to be aired.

  • John Martin

    WHNT reports that food was prepared from a horse trough and then they show pics of a trough in use. Now they say it’s not what they meant. REPORT TRUTH NOT fluff!

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