By Allen Payton
The Costa Health Services (CCHS) announced on Tuesday, they are investigating several new cases that are likely related to a foodborne illness outbreak reported in Antioch over the weekend. CCHS investigators on Tuesday contacted an additional eight people who were likely sickened by food or drink from the same event. None of those patients are currently hospitalized.
During a second press conference on the matter in Martinez on Tuesday afternoon, Environmental Health Director Marilyn Underwood and Dr. Louise McNitt, Communicable Disease Medical Director, stated there is now a ninth additional person who was reported to also become sick due to eating at the same dinner. That brings the total number of people who claim to be sickened by the meal served by Golden Hills Community Church to 17.
Eight cases of possible foodborne illness connected to the incident, including three that resulted in death, were reported to Public Health on Nov. 25 by Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch. All of the eight patients reported by Sutter Delta ate food from the holiday event.
It is now reported that all eight were residents of three different senior care, assisted living, group home facilities of four in Antioch owned by the same couple. Calls to the administrator and licensee of the homes, asking them why some of their staff and residents, as well as they and their family attended the Thanksgiving meal intended for the homeless, low-income residents and those who didn’t want to be alone on the holiday, were not returned before publication time.
In an attempt to clarify information about where the food was prepared, that was served at the Antioch event organizer Jeff Oransky explained that, “some of the food is prepared in people’s homes like the turkey, ham, and some of the stuffing, and then brought to the hall. The only things prepared on site are instant mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn and green beans.”
He mentioned the small size of the kitchen at the hall as the reason. Asked about how he can control the quality of the food being prepared and brought in, he replied, “We’ve had discussions about that” since last Thursday. “We’ve never had a problem before.”
“We’re pretty careful,” Oransky explained. “Every year we buy 600 disposable gloves and we run out of every one of them. We generally don’t touch the food, even with the gloves. We use the ladles and utensils, and we keep everything heated. Nothing just sits out.”
“The other issue is the to-go meals,” he continued. “Some people come in and take a to-go meal to take home. Others eat there and also take a meal home. As far as I know they haven’t determined if these people (who got sick) did one or the other, or both.”
Asked if there were delivery of prepared meals from the hall, Oransky said, “No, not that I know of. We don’t deliver them. I don’t have enough people to do that.”
“We have Meals On Wheels deliveries. But they have nothing to do with the food at the hall,” he clarified. “Those meals are all professionally prepared and delivered to people’s homes, who are Meals On Wheels clients. But Meals On Wheels doesn’t deliver on Thanksgiving, so we take it over and deliver for them. But, we don’t deliver food prepared from the hall.”
Asked about serving the Thanksgiving Day meals in the future, Golden Hills Community Church Executive Pastor Phil Hill, said “the county health services told us in the future we would have to get a permit and that means that all food would have to be prepared in an approved commercial facility.”
Asked if that will be required even if it’s determined that the church is not at fault, he responded, “Correct.”
An email asking for the name of the group distributing prepared meals outside of the hall, to people standing in line waiting to get in for the Thanksgiving meal was sent to Vicky Balladares, Communications Officer for Contra Costa Health Services.
She replied, “Our Environmental Health folks are trying to get the name. As far as I know they have not been able to get a name yet.”
Anyone who ate food from the Thanksgiving Day event at the Antioch American Legion Hall and Veterans Memorial Building at 403 West Sixth Street, and is now feeling ill should immediately contact their medical provider. Anyone who is not ill, but has food or drink from the event, should throw it away. The general public can call (925) 313-6700 for more information.
County health investigators are in the process of collecting biological samples from the reported cases for testing at county and state public health laboratories.