Queensland health authorities are investigating a fatal outbreak of food poisoning.
They say a 77-year-old woman has died and 220 people have fallen ill after exposure to salmonella bacteria at Melbourne Cup functions earlier this month.
Dr Susan Vlack from Brisbane’s metro north public health unit says salmonella did not cause the woman’s death but may have been a contributing factor.
The outbreak has been linked to Brisbane firm Piccalilli Catering, which provided food for up to 40 different Melbourne Cup events on November 5.
This afternoon the company posted a statement on its website.
Piccalilli Catering co-owner Helen Grace expressed her deep regret at what has occurred.
“We are deeply upset and distressed by this outcome,” she said.
“We always pride ourselves on sourcing the freshest Australian ingredients for our kitchens.
“We feel very disappointed and let down that the normally reliable fresh food supply chain has failed us – and our clients – on this occasion.”
Ms Grace says their catering on Melbourne Cup day included fresh mayonnaise made by the company’s chefs with eggs purchased from a usually reputable supplier.
“We had no reason to believe they were not up to the very high standards we demand of our suppliers,” she said.
“Suffice to say we will not source produce from this supplier in the future.”
Dr Vlack says they are concerned that people who are infected will spread the illness into the wider community.
“There is not too many people who have been very sick,” she said.
“We have had seven people we have identified as being hospitalised and probably about two of those are reasonably sick.
“Salmonella occurs particularly in meats such as chicken, pork, beef and in egg products.
“Those products are often part of a catered meal, so sometimes in small amounts in different dishes.
“If you’re sick, check with the doctor for fever and diarrhoea.”
Dr Vlack says letters have been sent all companies and private function coordinators who used the caterer, advising them of the situation.
She says they have been advised to report back on anyone who is experiencing sickness, particularly if they are health workers or staff handling food.
Symptoms usually develop within 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria, but sometimes take up to two weeks to appear.
The illness can last between four and seven days.
Ms Grace says Piccalilli has reviewed its internal procedures.
“It is of some comfort to know that there has not been a breakdown in our own quality systems,” she said.
“We have never experienced an incident such as this in 25 years as professional caterers.
“We are undertaking a thorough investigation of our supply chain arrangements, in order to ensure we are not let down by suppliers in this manner again.”