It has been reported that at least 20 people have been hospitalised owing to salmonella poisoning in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. According to News24, Lancet Laboratories reportedly alerted doctors in the region about cases in both children and adults. Food that has been affected include orange juice, eggs, fresh vegetables, frozen dinners, dairy products and peanut butter, based on tests by the laboratory.
Lancet says non-typhoidal salmonella species are the leading cause of bacterial food-borne illnesses.
The report says salmonella infection (salmonellosis) is a common bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. Salmonella bacteria typically live in animal and human intestines and are shed through faeces. Humans become infected most frequently through contaminated water or food. Symptoms usually include vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.
The report says the outbreak started at the Old Town Italy restaurant in Umhlanga. The restaurant’s famous Hollandaise sauce – made from raw egg – is reportedly the source of the outbreak. But other instances of salmonellosis have been reported in the area. Four children attending a Cowies Hill creche were reportedly confirmed by doctors to have salmonellosis. In addition, seven people who attended a private lunch spent almost a week at Hillcrest Private Hospital after eating a dessert made with egg. A restaurant in Florida Road was reportedly closed for two days after its patrons reported falling ill.
The report says many pharmacies in the greater Durban area have reported a sudden spike in the demand for diarrhoea medication.
Lancet Laboratories urged people to practice proper hygiene and food safety. “Food needs to be kept below 4°C. “People have also been urged to wash their hands and fresh foods before consuming. The public is also advised to properly cook food until it’s well done,” the laboratory said.
KZN Health authorities say, however, that although there have been a number of laboratory-confirmed cases of salmonella in Durban but there is no “outbreak” of infections in the province, reports News24.
Reports of a salmonella outbreak in the province have been doing the rounds on social media since the beginning of October. These include claims by people who say they were hospitalised after allegedly having breakfast at Old Town Italy, an upmarket restaurant in Umhlanga, north of Durban.
“At least some of the social media platforms seem to be portraying the picture that the province is seething with salmonella, it certainly is not,” said Neil Larratt, deputy head of the eThekwini municipality’s health unit. Larratt is quoted in the report as saying that there had been allegations of “outbreaks” elsewhere besides Old Town Italy, including a creche at Cowies Hill, west of Durban. “In the creche, there is one confirmed case. The children who attended the creche did become ill, but in fact very lightly. Most of them simply went home and didn’t receive medical attention,” said Larratt.
He said there had also been “discussions” on social media around family groups who attended a potjie cook-off where some people had become ill.
“We have no knowledge of that but clearly as our efforts going forward we will try and gain that knowledge and interview those people,” he said.
Larratt said the health unit had also been told that Old Town Italy’s egg distributor had given assurance that his eggs had tested negative for salmonella. “If you could just look at it logically, we’ve got a bunch of people from one restaurant that ate one thing. We have people from the same family who had the same thing but excluded a particular sauce and they were fine. So just superficially it would appear that we have identified the cause. Unfortunately, one of the things that happened was that there was delayed reporting to the health unit,” he said, adding that the matter was only reported to unit after four days.
“In an ideal world, you’d be able to take samples of the food that was alleged to have caused the harm and split the sample into three, for a test at restaurant owner’s facility, our facility and NHLS (National Health Laboratory Services) for comparison purposes. That was an unfortunate glitch,” he said.
The report says he appealed to private medical practices to report outbreaks timeously so that the health unit can investigate “as quickly as possible”.
Provincial health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said based on the information obtained from those who had become ill, and having considered the symptoms, incubation period, and type of meals consumed, it was most likely that their illness was due to salmonella which may have been present in the raw eggs used to make hollandaise sauce.
“We wish to categorically state that there is no outbreak of salmonella in the province. This matter has to do with poorly prepared food,” he reiterated.
According to Dhlomo, salmonella infection (salmonellosis) is a common bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. “Salmonella bacteria typically live in animal and human intestines and are shed through faeces. Humans become infected most frequently through contaminated water or food,” he said.
Old Town Italy said on its Facebook page that the reported salmonella incidences at the restaurant have not been going on for months “as claimed on social media and quoted in the press”. The restaurant said it had two reported incidents on 6 October that were investigated and independent tests were conducted. “On 20 October the test results came back and showed that there was no presence of salmonella in our kitchen/personnel tested or on the ingredients tested including the eggs and hollandaise sauce,” the restaurant said.
No further incidents were reported until 5 November, according to Old Town Italy. “We therefore viewed the two cases as isolated. Despite this we took additional precautionary measures, in addition to our normal health and safety procedures.” Since 5 November, the restaurant has received 11 reports, according to the Facebook post.
According to the report, the restaurant said it had decided not to serve eggs on its breakfast menu “until the investigations into all cases with Old Town Italy have come to a defined result”.