BATON ROUGE – An outbreak of foodborne illness in Caldwell Parish highlights the importance of safe food handling.
LSU AgCenter food safety expert Wenqing Xu said officials with the Louisiana Department of Health were still testing samples of jambalaya meals late last week. The meals were sold as a fundraiser about two weeks ago and are believed to be responsible for the outbreak.
Xu said two foodborne pathogens have been identified, Clostridium perfringens and salmonella. The Health Department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating one death and more than 100 illnesses linked to the jambalaya.
“Clostridium perfringens can reproduce rapidly and grows faster than most foodborne pathogens,” Xu said.
It can take days for symptoms of salmonella poisoning to show up, he said, but with Clostridium perfringens, illness can occur quickly after consumption.
Jambalaya is a challenging food for investigators – it has rice, vegetables, sausage and chicken so it is hard to pinpoint which was the issue.
Many outbreaks associated with Clostridium perfringens are usually in undercooked meat in quantities of food prepared for large groups. It is often called the food service germ.
Xu said issues can occur in the way the food was handled.
“Was it prepared the day before? How long was it held at certain temperatures?” Xu said.
Preparing large quantities of food can be difficult, Xu said. “It takes longer to heat up and longer to cool down. The more people helping can increase the risk of cross contamination,” she said.
Xu said the key principles of food safety are the same when cooking for two people or 200 – clean, cook, chill and separate.
Clean hands, surfaces and utensils with hot soapy water. Cook meats to proper temperatures by using a food thermometer. Keep raw meat chilled until use and return perishable foods to the refrigerator within two hours after preparing. Separate raw foods from cooked foods to avoid cross contamination.
Xu conducts a food safety workshop, Food Safety When Cooking for Large Groups, aimed at people who cook for fundraisers, potluck dinners or after disasters. She said anyone who cooks for crowds should consider participating in a workshop.
For information, contact your LSU AgCenter office or Xu at [email protected] In Lafourche, the office is at 115 Texas St. in Raceland, 446-1316. In Terrebonne, it’s at 511 Roussell St., 873-6495.