Andrew Oxford of the Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Epidemiologists at the state Department of Health are investigating their agency’s own annual holiday luncheon after dozens of employees reported falling ill after the party last week.
About 70 staff members claim to have experienced gastrointestinal issues following the catered event at the Harold Runnels Building attended by more than 200 employees, according to a spokesman.
Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher wrote in an email to staff Monday that investigators have not identified a specific food from the party that may have caused the outbreak.
A team from the department’s Epidemiology and Response Division “believes that there may have been cross-contamination of menu items served during the luncheon,” she wrote.
Epidemiologists were still waiting for laboratory test results as of Monday, but Gallagher told staff the outbreak appears to have been caused by bacillus cereus or clostridium perfringens, toxins that can cause food-borne illness.
Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Because cooking kills the bacteria, outbreaks usually occur after foods are prepared in large quantities and kept warm for a long period of time before serving.
Bacillus cereus can be found in foods that have been left to sit at room temperature for too long, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The department cautions that if food is to be stored for longer than two hours, hot foods should be kept hot at over 140 degrees and cold foods kept cold, at least 40 degrees or under.