By Christian Stegmaier
State health officials have determined that a bacteria commonly caused by improper cooling and reheating of food was the likely cause of an illness that sickened dozens of people at a political event in May at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control officials confirmed Clostridium perfringens likely caused many of the guests to become sick after the event held to honor Republican U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, said spokesman Adam Myrick.
The Conway man who catered the event has not been charged in the incident, Myrick said. DHEC officials have not released the man’s name and said he cooperated in the investigation.
The man did not have a permit to be a licensed caterer, but did not need one because he does not cater enough events, Myrick said.
“He was not a frequent caterer and has said he doesn’t plan to do so ever again,” Myrick said.
Foods that have suffered temperature changes often cause the bacteria, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
According to the FDA’s Web site, “Small numbers of the organisms are often present after cooking and multiply to food-poisoning levels during cool down and storage of prepared foods.
“It mostly occurs in meats, meat products and gravies,” Myrick said.
The menu at the May 28 party consisted of quail, barbecue pork, cole slaw, baked beans, rolls and sweet tea, said Thom Berry, DHEC spokesman.
It is not known how long the food that the caterer prepared was cooled before it was brought to the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and reheated, Myrick said.
“Sometimes food doesn’t get cooled enough soon enough and that’s when the bacteria multiples to food-poisoning type levels,” Myrick said. “That’s more than likely what happened in this case.”
DHEC officials received seven specimens from people who became sick after the event. About 700 people attended.
No food samples from the event were available for testing, Berry said.
Most of those who were affected suffered from diarrhea and lower gastrointestinal tract issues, Berry said.