Pressure on salmonella source

By Lindy Laird

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A hospitality leader would like to see the name of a Whangarei food outlet thought to be at the centre of a food poisoning outbreak made public.

Phil Sentch, president of Hospitality NZ Northland, said other food businesses could suffer because of rumour, but health officials say naming the outlet would have no public benefit.

Public health officials swooped into action two weeks ago after a cluster of food poisoning cases caused by the salmonella infantis strain. Nine of the 11 initial cases shared a link with a particular food outlet. After thorough checks, inspectors gave the outlet a clean report card and were unable to pinpoint the source of infection.

Its source could have been passed on via secondary contact with hands or may have been in a product supplied to the outlet.

Mr Sentch, who owns Rynoz in Cameron St, said if a food product was the source "then half the restaurants in town would have been at risk because they use the same suppliers".

"I'd hate for a place in town to be named and shamed but at the same time we all need to know if our own kitchens and customers were put at risk."

Northland District Health Board is awaiting the results of a possible 12th case of a salmonella poisoning but medical officer of health Claire Mills said she is confident it is not linked.

"We share the hospitality industry's concern for the health and wellbeing of the public, but we will not be releasing the name of the premise associated with the salmonella outbreak in Whangarei. There are very sound reasons for this," Dr Mills said. "Firstly, although the cases have been associated with eating at this particular premise, we need to have a very high level of evidence to prove, without any doubt, that the original source of the infection is within the premise, if indeed we were to publicly name it [for example, food may have potentially been contaminated at earlier parts of the food supply chain].

"Secondly, the outbreak actually occurred between mid-April and early May. The last case notified to us associated with this premise first reported symptoms starting on May 1.

"The incubation period for salmonella is normally 72 hours so we do not believe the source of infection is still present, and given the publicity over the last week or so about the outbreak I think we would have heard from members of the public directly if there were ongoing cases, as well as from general practitioners, who we alerted are the time we first identified the outbreak. Thus we do not consider there to be a raised public health risk at present."

- Northern Advocate

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