Leland Rapport, resident district manager of Chartwells, states that, although he agrees with most findings of the investigation conducted by the Miami-Dade County Health Department [MDCHD] to investigate a gastrointestinal illness outbreak on campus, he disagrees with the findings that suggest that Chartwells is responsible for the onset of the illness.
“First of all I would like to state that the safety and well-being of the students, faculty and administrators that dine with us each day is and has always been our top priority,” Rapport said. “I believe that the findings by both the Department of Health and our own Quality Assurance Department support the fact that there is a high level of food safety practices in place as well as thorough employee training.”
The results of the investigation, released in the December 2002 Epi Monthly Report of the Office of Epidemiology and Disease Control focuses on the Mahoney/Pearson dining hall and the Italian themed dinner held there on Nov. 13.
The MDCHD performed a series of statistical tests from Nov. 13-17, taking into account the times of onset of illness, interviews of people who reported symptoms, random questionnaires to students on campus who eat at the dining halls and laboratory test results.
According to the report, there were no confirmed cases of gastroenteritis since no pathogens were identified from stool specimens. However, 50 percent of the reported cases were classified as “probable” or “suspected,” meaning they lacked positive test results but did exhibit the necessary symptoms for gastrointestinal illness.
“Five of the probable cases and three of the suspected cases received medical care at a local hospital,” the report adds.
” believe the Health Department’s findings that there is no association between bacterial infection and Chartwells’ food is correct,” Rapport wrote in an e-mail statement to the Miami Hurricane on Jan. 17.
The report explains that there is no significant association between having eaten at the Italian theme dinner and becoming ill. The results did show a significant association between having lunch at the Mahoney/Pearson Dining Hall on Nov. 13 and becoming ill.
“A food item served at lunch on the Nov. 13 was the most likely source of the outbreak,” the report said.
Rapport, however, disagrees with these results.
“I believe that the statement on page six regarding the lunch served is contradictory to the health department’s and clinical test findings, and a statement that is based solely on statistical analysis and not fact,” Rapport said.
Ratings of “satisfactory” were given to both Mahoney/Pearson and Hecht/Stanford cafeterias. Earlier in the investigation, two ill food handlers at the Mahoney/Pearson cafeteria were suspected of having caused the illness; however, the report asserts their onset of illness occurred after the more likely cause: lunch or dinner on Nov. 13.
“I agree with the statement regarding our employees not being the suspected cause,” Rapport said.
“Laboratory testing yielded no bacteria, parasite, or Norovirus from the stool samples provided,” the report said. “Nevertheless, there is still a possibility that one of them could have been the causal agent.”
The report also states that enterotoxin should also be considered as another likely cause of this outbreak but available samples were not tested for enterotoxins.
Rapport believes that the statement regarding enterotoxins was speculative and not supported by fact.
According to the report, there was a considerable amount of interview bias involved in the case-control study.
“This bias was due to investigators interviewing cases at length; whereas controls were allowed to self-administer the same questionnaire,” the report said.
Also, confidence intervals for some of the reported statistical analyses are extremely wide, which could introduce error into the report’s conclusions.
Students are concerned about the inconclusive results of the investigation.
“I am worried about the quality and safety of the food that I eat,” senior David Abramson said. “I eat at Chartwells as little as possible. This should be investigated so that it does not occur again.”
Mel Tenen, director of auxiliary services for dining and vending services, refused comment on the issue. Rapport chose to communicate only via e-mail.
Currently, several UM professors are working with the Miami Hurricane to analyze the results and see if the MDCHD report was accurate. The Hurricane will continue to investigate the matter.
Sam Lockhart can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.