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No Link Between Lunch Food and Reiche Stomach Illness

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No Link Between Lunch Food and Reiche Stomach Illness
Posted on 03/27/2015

While laboratory tests completed by the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) were unable to provide a reason for a recent outbreak of gastrointestinal illness at Reiche Elementary School, the tests show no link between the illness and the school lunch the children ate that day.

The results of the federal agency’s testing of the food samples are inclusive as to the cause of the stomach ailment. However, the Maine CDC announced today, “the U.S. CDC has confirmed that there were no bacteria found in the food that can be linked to the illness at the school.”

The tests of the food samples did find some germs – but they were ones that are commonly found in healthy individuals and in some foods. “These germs can produce a toxin that leads to an illness, however, the illness would have lasted much longer, and the symptoms would have been different than those witnessed at Reiche School,” the Maine CDC said.

As soon as it gets a full lab report from the federal agency, the Maine CDC said it will formally close its investigation of the case. And it plans to list the cause of the gastrointestinal ailment that affected 22 students on March 10 as unknown.

That afternoon, the students presented to the Reiche  Elementary School nurse's office with a sudden onset of stomach illness and vomiting. Parents of the ill children were immediately notified. Tina Veilleux, school nurse coordinator for the Portland Public Schools, also sent a letter home to all Reiche parents the next day, notifying them of the incident. Most students experienced improvement of symptoms within hours of onset. All recovered quite quickly and returned to school.

Because of the unusual number of cases, the district immediately notified the Maine CDC and Portland city Health Division when the students got sick. Officials from the state and the city did an inspection of the Portland Public Schools’ Food Service central kitchen and Reiche School. The central kitchen had no violations, but four problems were found at Reiche on March 12.

Those problems have been corrected and Reiche has since passed a follow-up health inspection.

“Working closely with the city of Portland Health Inspection Service, state health inspectors and the Maine CDC, we targeted the four areas of concern, defined corrective actions, provided training for the staff and increased supervision at the site with the cooperation of the Reiche school staff,” said Ron Adams, director of Food Services for the Portland Public Schools. “The kitchen at Reiche School was inspected on January 2015 with a passing grade, failed the March 12 inspection due to four problem areas, which were corrected immediately, and was re-inspected on March 19, as required, with a passing grade.”

Adams noted that the Portland Public Schools’ Food Services program serves 1.1 million meals without issue each year and is a model for using local foods and addressing student hunger.

Veilleux had noted from the start that the illness cluster may not have been related to food. Every year, GI infections circulate through the population.

In her letter to parents, Veilleux urged parents to encourage their children to wash their hands frequently and cover coughs and sneezes, in order to help prevent the spread of illness. Children who are sick should stay home from school until symptom-free for 24 hours.