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State: Cleveland church barbecue illness was salmonella

State health officials have confirmed that salmonella was responsible for making sick more than 100 people who ate food from a Cleveland County church barbecue in September.

And they are suggesting that North Carolina adopt new measures to safeguard food served at fundraising and similar events.

The Cleveland County Health Department says a final report from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services pinpointed salmonella as the culprit for the illness associated with Sandy Plains Baptist Church.

The church’s barbecue took place Sept. 7, and the victims became sick over the following week to 10 days.

State officials said they confirmed 104 cases of the bacterial illness, with the victims ranging in age from 3 to 85. The victims included 54 Rutherford County residents and 45 from Cleveland County.

Cleveland County health officials said the state report did not pinpoint one type of food or beverage responsible for the illness.

In their report, state officials noted that North Carolina law exempts nonprofit organizations that serve food or drink on an occasional basis from health inspections.

“Given the fact that events such as church barbecues may serve large numbers of persons and utilize relatively untrained persons, consideration should be given to requiring some formal oversight to ensure food safety,” the report said.

Among the suggestions from state health officials:

• Organizations should team with local environmental health specialists to receive guidance on safe food handling practices.

• Children should not participate in food handling, especially without gloves. If they are involved, it should be under adult supervision.

• Organizations should plan special food handling requirements for items such as meats, eggs, raw fruits and vegetables.

• Food should be acquired from approved sources and not prepared in home kitchens.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107; Twitter: @slyttle
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