Scores of Workers Sickened From Apparent Food Poisoning

Several dozen employes in the Coffeyville/Independence facility were stricken with apparent food poisoning early Tuesday morning after eating food provided to them by an Oklahoma catering company. The company normally provides food to employees working at night.

Local and area hospitals were inudated with Amazon employees after the outbreak began about 1:30 AM Tuesday. The distribution center is located between Coffeyville and Independence in the Coffeyville Industrial Park.

Emergency Medical Service paramedics and technicians from Independence, Coffeyville, Parsons, and Caney were alerted to the outbreak and began transporting victims to the Coffeyville Regional Medical Center, Mercy Hospital in Independence, and Labette County Medical Center in Parsons. Joanne Cox, director of Public Relations for Mercy Hospital said one woman was admitted, five others were treated and released.

At CRMC, Susan Correll said 20 people were transported to that facility, and eight were admitted. At LCMC there were eight employees treated, then released, according to William Mahoney, CEO of the hospital.

Amazon announced the closing of the facility during the early morning hours on Tuesday, but by the time for the day shift, the facility had re-opened.

Word of the outbreak began shortly after midnight according to the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department. Deputy Todd Clark was making his routine rounds and noted a car on the side of the road at Paul Street and Walnut Street in Coffeyville. As is customary, the deputy stopped to inquire about the well-being of the passenger and notice a female occupant who was leaning out of the car window vomiting. He offered to help the woman or escort her to her destination. She told him she worked at and had eaten some barbeque pork catered to the employees between the late evening and early morning shifts by Poritunes Food and Ale, an Oklahoma company which feeds employees at the facility. Cook advised his dispatcher about the situation and then about an hour later, at 1:16 AM the dispatcher advised him that Coffeyville EMS personnel were responding to Amazon where a woman with diabetes had become ill and was believed to be striken with food poisoning.

Cook responded to the facility to assist the EMS workers and was told upon arrival that between 60 and 80 employees had become ill. At that point, Tony Lamb, an employee of Coffeyville EMS requested other emergency agencies in the area to assist in the evacuation and transport of the facility's employees, and that a public announcement be made asking everyone who had eaten the barbeque offered by the catering service (from the earlier shift, now mostly scattered and on their way home) to be alert to the problem and see their physician as needed. A general announcement was made over cable television in Independence and Coffeyville seeking employees for this.

Sharon Watson, director of public affairs for Kansas Department of Health and Evironment said three investigators had been assigned to work with Montgomery County health officials to detirmine the exact cause of the outbreak; They were joined by Oklahoma health officials (the catering firm is located in Oklahoma) in saying it was apparently 'tainted pork sausage' which was responsible. Samples of the pork sausage and samples from the patients were sent to the state laboratory in Topeka for futher examination. By Wednesday things were back to normal at the Amazon facility.

Copyright 2005 Independence Reporter Publishing.

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