National Food Safety Conference Stricken by—You Guessed It—Food Poisoning

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 29 2014 8:22 PM

National Food Safety Conference Stricken by—You Guessed It—Food Poisoning

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Eat at your own risk.

Photo by KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

The Food Safety Summit sounds more like serious business and less like foodies hobnobbing about quinoa trends. With seminars like “Traceability: Taking a Mock Recall to the Next Level” and “Food Fraud/Economically Motivated Adulteration” you know the conference’s attendees aren’t joking around about protecting and serving when it comes to food.

So, during the summit, which took place at the Baltimore Civic Center earlier this month, what’s the one thing that could (poetically) derail 1,300 food safety experts’ usual conference shenanigans? The answer, inevitably, is food poisoning.

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Here’s how the problem started weeks ago via NBC News:

At least four people called the Baltimore City Health Department this week to report that they developed diarrhea, nausea and other symptoms about 12 hours after eating a meal April 9 during the conference at the Baltimore Convention Center… Word of the investigation spread Thursday when Bill Marler, a Seattle food safety lawyer, posted online a survey sent to him and other conference speakers and attendees asking them to report what they ate and how they felt after the meeting.

A few upset stomachs doesn’t seem like anything to worry about, but in the weeks after the summit, the food security situation turned out to be worse than first thought as “more than 100 people have now reported they got sick with suspected food poisoning,” according to NBC News. Health officials said they still had not confirmed if the food was the cause of the illness. They also pointed out that there were no reported hospitalizations or deaths from the conference’s cuisine. But, whatever the cause, more food casualties could be on the way. “The state health department sent a survey to summit attendees on April 17,” according to the Associated Press. “About 400 responded, with more than 100 people reporting symptoms.”

The outbreak prompted Baltimore health officials to take another look at Centerplate, the Baltimore Civic Center’s in-house catering company. After a second glance, they issued the company a violation for condensation dripping from an ice machine. “Officials at the center are cooperating fully with investigators to determine the cause of the illnesses,” the head of the Civic Center told NBC News. In fairness, feeding a room full of food cops is kind of like the food service Super Bowl for Centerplate. And, like so many Super Bowls, it was a blowout.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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