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Salmonella outbreak linked to Melbourne hotel’s high tea

July 22, 2015
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She went to the Langham Hotel’s high tea to cheer herself up after the death of her grandmother, but thanks to a nasty bout of salmonella poisoning Katherine was feeling worse than ever last week.

“It was highly unpleasant – I had to go to the bathroom every hour,” the 24-year-old said. 

“I had a temperature, I was sweating, I was shaking, I had a headache, my whole body hurt.”

Katherine (who did not want to give her last name) ended up taking time off work until Thursday.

And while it was an unbearable two days for Katherine, her friend Ben fared even worse and ended up in hospital. 

On Tuesday, the health department confirmed that more than half of those who went to one of five $75-a-head high tea sessions at the hotel over the course of the July 11-12 weekend fell sick, with some cases confirmed as being salmonella.

Katherine said as of Tuesday morning she had not heard anything from the health department or the hotel about the outbreak and was considering her legal options.

Victoria’s Acting Chief Health Officer Michael Ackland said it could take weeks to isolate the exact cause, although he said there were often salmonella risks in undercooked eggs, chicken or contaminated salad.

He said 44 of the 77 people who attended the luxury weekend service on July 11 and 12 had reported falling sick. Of these, 15 have so far been confirmed as salmonella cases, including four people who were admitted to hospital.

Two people also presented at hospital emergency departments, Dr Ackland said.

One person remains under supervision at the John Fawkner Private Hospital, and was likely to be discharged soon.

Dr Ackland said any action against the Langham Hotel for the outbreak would be pursued by the City of Melbourne.

The hotel had co-operated with the health department and had worked with the council to clean up its kitchens, he said.

“Unfortunately things like this do occur from time to time,” Dr Ackland said,  “and we are looking as systematically as possible at the sort of things that lead to salmonella infections.”

He said a salmonella working group had been convened to investigate what Victoria’s spate of salmonella outbreaks. There have been 2124 salmonellosis cases reported so far this year. Another 3693 people contracted the infection in 2014, almost a 50 per cent rise in two years. 

Health department spokesman Bram Alexander said the hotel had disposed of all of the suspect foods.

Salmonella bacteria can spread to humans when meat and eggs are not properly cooked, or raw foods are contaminated with other ingredients. It usually takes between six and 72 hours for people to become ill with salmonellosis, a type of gastroenteritis that can caused diarrhoea, fever, stomach cramps and vomiting.

The hotel’s managing director, Ben Sington, said the hotel was cooperating with efforts to determine the origin of this illness and was in with contact with guests directly.

Frozen samples of food served to guests at the hotel; have  been provided to investigators, as well as detailed food logs.

 “As the safety and wellbeing of the guests and colleagues are of the highest priority, the hotel has extensive protocols in place to ensure food safety,” Mr Sington said.

Published by The Age, 21/07/2015