Local News

Illnesses at Durham restaurant could be linked to egg recall

Posted August 20, 2010 6:38 p.m. EDT
Updated August 26, 2010 2:40 p.m. EDT

— State health officials said Friday that it's unclear whether there is any link to the April outbreak of illnesses at a Durham restaurant and this week's growing nationwide recall of eggs.

Sixty-five people were sickened in the outbreak at Bullock's Barbecue, and at least seven had to be hospitalized for dehydration because of vomiting and diarrhea.

Inspectors traced the problem to Salmonella bacteria that was in foods containing egg, and further investigation determined the likely source was bacteria in a commercially made egg white product the restaurant used to make meringue.

While the Salmonella bacteria behind the egg recall shares genetic markers with the pasteurized egg product used at Bullock's Barbecue, it can't be definitively linked to the same source, according to public health officials.

More than 1,000 people in several states have been sickened by the eggs since May, officials said.

Ben Chapman, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University and food safety specialist, said the pathogen in the strain of Salmonella is extremely common, which makes pinpointing the source of illness difficult.

"Over half of the outbreaks that we see and we investigate – food safety professionals investigate – never get solved," Chapman said.

Federal investigators used a database to track outbreaks in several states and eventually figured out eggs could be the culprit, he said.

"We can have illnesses in Rhode Island, illnesses in Arkansas and illnesses in North Carolina connected to, say, one common source likely for this product," he said.

Chapman said he believes officials recalled the eggs as soon as they pinpointed them as a likely source of the outbreaks. The food industry is constantly working on ways to recall suspect foods more quickly, he said.

None of the eggs in the recall have been linked to North Carolina, but that didn't stop Raleigh resident Jennifer White from wondering about the food in her refrigerator.

"It's kind of scary because you don't know if you've got those eggs or not," White said.

Still, she said, she trusts federal officials to keep the food supply safe.

"I think they are doing a good job. I think they do as good as they can," she said.