Students fear add'l food poisoning outbreak - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Students fear add'l food poisoning outbreak

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by Nick Delgado

Guam - The investigation continues after nearly 300 students were sent to the hospital for a suspected case of food poisoning at five of the island's southern public schools. The food scare for five of the southern schools - Southern High, Oceanview Middle, J.P. Torres Alternative, Truman Elementary and Marcial Sablan Elementary - has forced education and public health officials to conduct thorough inspections of meals being served.

The suspected culprit is the breakfast served Thursday - egg salad sandwiches, sliced melon and milk. It was business as usual at the cafeteria at Marcial Sablan Elementary School in Agat. School officials are also checking up on the status of the meals to make sure that it meets everyday standards, as health and safety is a requirement for all students.

When KUAM News asked one student if he ate the food yesterday, he said, "Some of it, I felt like nausea I felt like dizzy then after that I was almost about to vomit then it just stopped," also replying with, "a lot," when asked if the student's friend had also ate the food. "They were eating most of the food on their tray then after that one of my friend just vomited and then first she crying and then she rubbed her forehead and just vomited."  Asked if they'd continue to eat school lunches, the students said, "I'm not sure because I don't want to experience something like that."

Most students were seen with packed lunches today following the food poisoning outbreak. Public Health's Environmental Health Administrator Tom Nadeau says his staff has since sent out questionnaires to the schools, and is testing the food samples. He admits considering the symptoms it appears to be a foodborne outbreak. "Based on the symptoms, which is primarily nausea and vomiting, we suspect its some form of intoxication meaning its some toxic causes this illness, the symptoms so we are looking at pathogens that's associated with toxication, such as staph," he said.

Nadeau continued, "Staph is usually associated with poor hygiene for example let's say an individual failed to wash his or her own hands after touching the face, skin, nose or something similar to that and basically contaminating the food. The food is allowed to sit at room temperature not properly kept at right temperature and the pathogen produces toxins, so even after the food is cooked if the toxins still there it could potentially still make the person sick."

Nadeau says samples are being tested locally as well as at a lab in Hawaii. He adds the Guam National Guard is assisting by conducting preliminary screenings of the food. Federal Programs Administrator Ike Santos, who also oversees the Department of Education's Food and Nutrition Program says all the meals from King's Restaurant in question were prepared at Southern High before being transferred to other sites. Public Health also inspected the high school's cafeteria, and interviewed the cafeteria employees.

Santos says several DOE staff, who are nationally certified under the serve safe institute, monitored the meal process by kings today. He adds there are no current plans to close the cafeteria. "According to Public Health environmental officials," said Santos, "they have no grounds for shutting it down, and so based on that as a result of the contract we have with the food services management contract and GDOE we have to go on as business as usual until the findings are concluded as to where the source of illness has come from, we don't want to say it came from the food, it could have come from the water, we don't know."

Santos says his staff noticed minor concerns today, however declined to reveal those concerns until a full report is finalized.

In the meantime, Guam Homeland Security reports that 53 students were sent to naval hospital and 165 were taken to the Guam Memorial Hospital on Thursday. Out of that number, homeland confirms only one student and one adult had to be admitted and was discharged today.

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