Imported eggs suspected in Durban's Salmonella outbreak
Salmonella bacteria, most likely from contaminated eggs, has put at least 30 people in the greater Durban area in hospital, and sickened many more.
Social media reports posted by people who’d contracted salmonellosis after eating at the upmarket Old Town Italy restaurant in Umhlanga - mostly meals including hollandaise sauce - raised the alarm, but the outbreak of the past few weeks goes far beyond one restaurant.
Four children attending a Cowies Hill creche were confirmed by doctors to have salmonellosis; seven people who attended a private lunch ended up in Hillcrest Private Hospital for almost a week after eating a dessert made with egg; a Florida Road restaurant closed for two days after its patrons reported falling ill and many pharmacies in the greater Durban area have reported a sudden spike in the demand for diarrhoea medication.
Paulo Franco told TimesLIVE that his 23-year-old son has been in Umhlanga Hospital since Monday, with persistent chronic diarrhoea, after eating poached eggs with hollandaise sauce at Old Town Italy with his parents on Sunday morning.
“When he was admitted, his stomach cramps were so bad he could barely stand,” Franco said.
“I informed the restaurant privately that Salmonella has been confirmed as the cause, and they assured me that they’d handled the problem, but hospital staff told us that three more people who’d eaten at Old Town Italy were admitted on Wednesday night.
“So why is the restaurant still open?”
The restaurant posted a response on its Facebook page on Thursday evening: “We have been in personal contact with all families and the health department to get to the bottom of the issue.
“On Monday we stopped producing hollandaise sauce in-house and replaced it with a pre-manufactured variant; we quarantined all bacon and egg products and changed to an another egg and bacon supplier.
“We have also conducted multiple tests with independent laboratories and are awaiting the results.
“We have also had no additional reported cases since the precautionary measures were implemented.”
Operations manager Clifford Barratt said it was possible for someone to have eaten at the restaurant on Sunday and only be admitted to hospital on Wednesday because it takes anything from six to 72 hours for someone to fall ill after eating food contaminated with Salmonella.
Confusingly, Colin Steenhuisen of the SA Poultry Association’s egg board told TimesLIVE that tests had found no Salmonella bacteria in the eggs of the company which supplied Old Town Italy.
“So in this case at least, eggs were not the source,” he said.
But the outbreak is by no means confined to that one restaurant.
The owner of a restaurant in Florida Road, who asked not to be named, said she closed the restaurant for two days last week “to do a deep clean and disinfection” - after four patrons who’d eaten there fell ill, along with two staff members.
And two weekends ago, 15 people out of 20 who attended a potjie competition at a private home near Hillcrest fell severely ill. Seven of them - including three children under the age of 10 - were treated at Hillcrest Private Hospital for five to six days.
“One of our friends brought a dessert made with eggs which weren’t fully cooked,” said journalist Nicola Jenvey, whose sister Helen Grosvenor hosted the event.
The hospital confirmed the bacteria was Salmonella from eggsNicola Jenvey
“I vomited violently and spent most of the following week in bed.
“The hospital ran tests and confirmed that the bacteria was Salmonella from eggs - and the infection rate was incredibly high,” Jenvey said.
Four children who attend Huggy Bear creche in Cowies Hill were also confirmed to have contracted salmonellosis, some of them being treated in the same ward as those from the potjie party.
Creche owner Anne Westermeyer, who closed the creche for a few days, said the source was a mystery as she does not serve eggs to the children.
A Hillcrest pharmacist, who asked not to be named, said when a lot of clients began presenting prescriptions for diarrhoea medication and antibiotics, she suspected a food-borne disease outbreak, and contacted several doctors in the area, who confirmed it.
Speculation about which egg supplier is the source of the outbreak is rife. One egg supplier said a KwaZulu-Natal-based company had imported tens of millions of dozen-pack eggs from Brazil which has led to a flood of cheap eggs on the market.
“They are relatively old, and kept just about freezing point,” he said. "When they are brought to room temperature, they sweat, and that’s how the contamination happens."
eThekwini municipality’s environmental health practitioners have been involved in all those cases, according to those involved.
TimesLIVE approached both the municipal and provincial health departments for a response, which is still pending.
Food microbiologist Dr Lucia Anelich said all parts of a hollandaise sauce made with raw egg yolks would need to reach a high-enough temperature for a long enough time in order to kill any Salmonella that may be present.
“Typically one would want to reach at least 70 degrees C for 2 minutes. If that is not achieved, there is a risk that if Salmonella is originating from the egg yolks, the organism will survive,” she said.
“Industry-produced hollandaise sauces are made more often from powdered egg yolks which have undergone a heating step high enough to kill Salmonella.”
- Salmonelliosis is most often contracted by eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry or eggs. It results in diarrhoea, stomach cramps and fever, with headache, nausea and vomiting.
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