Update: Bacterial toxin found in food served to sick Coachella festival shuttle drivers

After a thorough investigation, Riverside County health officials now say they have determined a possible source of the foodborne illness that sickened more than 100 shuttle drivers during the second weekend of the Riverside Music Festival. Coachella.

“Tests carried out on food collected after dozens of employees of a shuttle company fell ill last month have detected a bacterial toxin that can cause the symptoms described by those who fell ill,” confirmed Shane Reichardt from the emergency management department at News Channel 3.

Officials say the toxin was found this week by the state health department laboratory and reported as Staphylococcal aureus (Staph) enterotoxin. The toxin “was detected in the food sample taken by a Los Angeles County resident who fell ill shortly after eating a dinner held for employees of a shuttle company on April 24.”

“Through the collaboration with Environmental Health and the supplier, we were able to interview hundreds of people who attended the dinner with the idea of ​​determining the circumstances around the meal,” said Kim Saruwatari, director of the public health department of the Riverside County. “The goal was to identify the specific food or item that made so many people sick.”

Investigators say drivers who became ill said they began to experience symptoms within hours of eating.

However, “because the foods sampled were mixed, health officials did not determine the specific food that caused the illness.” However, News Channel 3 confirmed that the food tested was a pasta dish with meatballs and sauce.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), staphylococcal food poisoning results from eating food contaminated with toxins produced by this bacteria. The toxin can cause a variety of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea… According to the CDC, the best way to avoid Staph food poisoning is to prevent foods perishables from being kept at room temperature for more than two hours.

Riverside County Emergency Management

Riverside County health officials told News Channel 3 that as part of their illness investigation, they “ended up doing nearly 300 interviews with employees of the shuttle company.” This includes “those who got sick and those who didn’t – and identified someone who got sick and brought some of the food home.”

One such driver shared his story with News Channel 3’s Jake Ingrassia after the incident.

Blanca Moreno said she got so sick driving her bus that she had to stop immediately.

“I was driving and I felt like I was going to throw up,” Moreno said. “As soon as I opened the door, I started throwing up.”

Moreno said she had Coachella goers on her bus after 9 a.m. Sunday night when she started feeling a sharp pain in her stomach.

“I couldn’t take the pain,” she said. “It was bad.”

Just an hour earlier, she and other drivers ate a catered meal at the Riverside County Fairgrounds in Indio. “It was meatballs and fettuccine pasta, and there was chicken but the chicken didn’t look too good,” Moreno said. “And then the salad – it didn’t look very good either.”

More: More than 100 Coachella shuttle drivers said they were sick with food poisoning

In April, News Channel 3 reported that an Indio Commissioner’s kitchen and caterer was part of the county’s investigation into an incident that led to more than 100 Coachella festival shuttle bus drivers suffering from apparent food poisoning. .

The incident sent at least 46 shuttle drivers to local hospitals, however, county officials believe the number of people affected could be higher as there were many drivers from outside the area.

The two establishments were not identified as being responsible for the illnesses. The investigation into the source of the problem is still ongoing at this time.

Riverside County Environmental Health Department officials confirmed to News Channel 3 that the two facilities are Sacher Enterprises, a commissioner’s kitchen, and Croux & Co., a local catering company.

Sunday evening meals were prepared in the kitchen by caterer Croux & Co., according to an email from Dottie Ellis-Merki, deputy director of the Department of Environmental Health.

“Sacher and Croux are both licensed by our department. The stewardship kitchen was inspected Monday morning (4/25/22) by our staff. stayed in the kitchen.” Ellis-Merki tells News Channel 3.

“Both facilities have been very cooperative in the investigation,” Ellis-Merki wrote.

News Channel 3 spoke to representatives from both facilities the day the county identified them.

Croux Koplin, owner of Croux & Co., said several catering companies were involved in serving food to shuttle drivers. On Sunday evening they provided dinner, coffee and drinks for around 300 people. They served fettuccine, meatballs, pre-mixed salad and bread.

Koplin said the employees also ate the food, except for the salad, and none of them reported being sick.

Croux & Co.’s last routine inspection by the Department of Health on June 14, 2021, where the company received an “A” rating with a score of 98 out of 100.

Toni Romero of Sacher Enterprises told News Channel 3 they served the drivers on Saturday night. They served carne asada burritos, chicken and rice. The staff also ate the same food and none of them reported feeling sick.

She says she scrupulously follows the health instructions. “I know where I am, I know how we handle food,” Romero said, acknowledging that the health ministry can step in at any time.

Romero said it was the first time something like this had been connected to her kitchen and she was cooperating with the investigation. “In reality, we don’t know at this point,” she said, “there’s no determination as to what happened.”

The Health Department performed a routine inspection at Satcher Enterprises on January 18, 2022. The company received an “A” rating with a rating of 97 out of 100.

Both companies are involved in the investigation as they are linked to the food served over the weekend which the drivers reported being ill, however, neither company has been confirmed to be responsible for the incident.

The investigation into the apparent food poisoning is still ongoing.

Stay with News Channel 3 for continued updates on the investigation.

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