The outbreak of foodborne illness centered at Old South restaurant in Camden, South Carolina turned out to be one of the biggest in the state’s history, sickening over 300 people and killing one man.
Environmental staff collected surface swabs and questioned staff and owners about food preparation. Officials returned again and collected samples of raw turkey and eggs from the lot that had been used in meals on May 19 and 22. The turkey samples were taken for testing to the FSIS laboratory in Athens, Georgia.
For their case-control study, DHEC officials initially analyzed only people who had dined at Old South on May 19. This analysis revealed that roast turkey was significantly associated with illness, thus prompting second and third studies involving diners from both May 19 and May 22. Ultimately, the combined results of all studies implicated roasted turkey and biscuits as the likely foods that caused illness.
Laboratory results from the environmental investigation further implicated the roast turkey. The raw turkey samples that had been taken for testing at the FSIS laboratory returned positive for Salmonella enteritidis.
The final circumstances implicating the turkey were discovered by Old South employees during the course of the investigation. The convection oven that employees had used to cook the contaminated turkey had malfunctioned, thus preventing the turkey from reaching a temperature sufficient to kill Salmonella. More specifically, two of the oven’s three heating elements were inoperable during the outbreak exposure period, leaving only one element to warm the oven. With no device to indicate that the oven had malfunctioned, restaurant employees continued to cook the contaminated turkey to an insufficient temperature.
In addition, the oven contained no gauge, display, or device to disclose the oven’s actual temperature, thus creating a variance between the operator-designated temperature and the actual oven temperature. This variance was not disclosed to the operator, thus producing false, misleading, and confusing information regarding the operation and actual internal temperature of the oven.