Tainted ham suspected in deadly bacteria outbreak
Number of people sickened rises to more than 600
November 7, 1997
Web posted at: 1:50 p.m. EST (1850 GMT)
CHAPTICO, Maryland (CNN) -- The number of people sickened by a church dinner stood at more than 600 on Friday and tests indicated tainted ham and stuffing made of kale, cabbage and spices caused the outbreak that is also the suspected cause of death of two elderly women.
"When you look at who ate what and who came down with illness, it seems that the ham sticks out in comparison with the other possible products," Dr. Martin Wasserman, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said on Thursday.
Some 1,400 people attended Sunday's fund-raiser at Our Lady of the Wayside Church in Chaptico, located 70 miles south of Baltimore. Nearly half became sick, with stomach cramps, nausea, fever and diarrhea.
Thirty-five people were hospitalized in fair and stable condition Thursday at St. Mary's Hospital and Physicians Memorial Hospital.
Authorities earlier had said one of the women had died of salmonella poisoning, but on Thursday said an exact cause would depend on autopsy results.
Tori Leonard, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said salmonella was strongly suspected in one of the deaths.
"We're looking into two, but we only have one so far that appears to be clearly linked to the outbreak," she said. "The other one we're not sure is related."
The names of the victims, from Chaptico and Baltimore, were not released.
Mary Novotny, spokeswoman for St. Mary's County Health Department, said investigators were checking to verify which food was to blame, how it was handled and how it was processed. Commercial suppliers were being checked.
The meal has been an annual event in the quiet town of 2,000 for at least 75 years.
Virginia Tennyson, who along with her husband, Jackie, runs the Chaptico Market and Deli which sold the ham and turkey for the dinner, said she has been selling meat for more than 30 years without a problem.
And she has never had problems before with the company that supplied the meat for the dinner, she said.
Mrs. Tennyson said she sold the church 68 turkeys and 38 stuffed hams, which she bought from a supplier she refused to name, but her employees didn't prepare the food.
She said she was a principal organizer of the fund-raiser, ate there Sunday and even served her family leftovers on Monday. She said she and her husband did not become sick, but some of her six children became mildly ill.
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