The reported illness of several students from “probable food-borne illness” after eating food from the Silliman University Cafeteria on Oct. 1st was not a result of contamination but spoilage.
Dr. Walden Ursos, University Health Committee chairperson, made the statement after conducting an investigation into the case, and said their investigation found “no definite conclusion” on the catered food being contaminated.
Following the “probable food-borne illnesses” outbreak, the Silliman administration said in a forum last Thursday that the cases were due to food “spoilage, not contamination”, from the time lag between the food being delivered, and its actual consumption.
The results of the study were made public last Thursday, three weeks after the start of the investigation, and about two weeks after the survey was administered on students from the College of Mass Communication and the School of Public Affairs & Governance.
“On the day of the incidents (Oct. 1), the SU Cafeteria prepared the catered orders of both parties from 3pm-4pm. The events started at around 5pm-6pm, and the students consumed the food around 7pm-8pm. Both parties ended around 9pm-10pm,” Dr. Ursos noted.
The result recorded 95.6 percent (43 students) having experienced diarrhea, while others experienced nausea, vomiting, fever, stomach aches; the majority of them experienced their first symptoms on the average of 12 hours after having that dinner in campus.
“Through deductive analysis of the gathered information, most probably the food may have started to become spoiled four to six hours from the time of serving,” he said.
The investigation started on Oct. 5, four days after the incident involving food from the SU Cafeteria, while the 73 students who were reportedly “contaminated” after their respective acquaintance parties answered a self-administered survey concerning their exposure and the development of the symptoms “attributable to a probable food-borne illness”.
Dr. Ursos said a contributing risk factor that may have led to spoilage was the fact that the food were not served in ‘food warmers’.
Food warmers are table-top equipment normally used in catering services to maintain the temperature of prepared food.
“The caterers did not place and use food warmers. Considering that the venues were air-conditioned halls, this allowed the cooling of the food to start early. Thus, we put the food at risk of spoiling,” Dr. Ursos added.
He highlighted the critical importance of the use of food warmers by the caterers in campus to reduce the risk of spoilage, as he also urged students to practice punctuality in all their events, especially if it involves “large-scale catering”.
“Food is recommended to be kept at 60 degrees celsius, or even hotter — the required temperature to keep bacteria at bay, and prevent spoilage. Ideally, food should be served hot. The food should be served on time as planned to ensure its freshness,” the medical doctor said.
Ursos urged the students to practice health-seeking behavior, and to not hesitate in consulting medical help.
Meanwhile, Jane Annette Belarmino, SU vice president for Development Enterprise & External Affairs, said the incident was the first case they have encountered. “We went back to our records more than five more years, wala man po’y incidents of food contamination.”
She said the University has faculty and staff who have enough experience. “I just would like to let you know the University seriously takes [the] issue of food safety.”
She urged the students to be aware they have benefits to avail, like free medical consultations, and 50 percent discount on laboratory tests at the Silliman University Medical Center. “I know the Student Government disseminates that [information] to the students, maybe you missed the announcement from the Student Government; that is your right,” she said. (SU Masscom Investigative Journalism class; Photo by Francis Ryan Pabiania)