Possible Food Poisoning Outbreak Reported at Fargo, ND Jail

A possible food poisoning outbreak has been reported at a Fargo, North Dakota jail. About 90% of the inmates at the Cass County Jail are sick with flu-like symptoms.

Of the 184 inmates who were imprisoned, over 150 were believed to be suffering from diarrhea and vomiting, and jail officials believe the illness is linked to a recent dinner meal, said WDAY. In response, officials at the jail and public health officials are investigating potential illness origins, said WDAY. None of the staff reported being ill.

“A lot of the symptoms are pretty much like you and I, if you don’t feel good or have the flu or some type of food poisoning, you want to lay up in bed and you don’t want anybody to bother you,” said Sheriff Paul Laney, according to WDAY.

No inmates missed court appearances and some actually felt well enough to dine at lunch the next day, said Sheriff Laney. “We’re very, very happy there weren’t serious medical issues,” Laney said. “We’re not going to rest until we find out what happened,” he added, wrote the Grand Forks Herald.

None of the inmates required hospitalization; however, nurses from Fargo Cass Public Health treated patients with the most severe symptoms, according to the jail’s Chief Nurse Heidi McLean, wrote the Grand Forks Herald.

The culprit is believed to be in the components of a dinner of ChiliMac casserole, which the prison makes with ground turkey, chili, and macaroni; cornbread; whipped butter; cookies; and a powdered drink, said the Grand Forks Herald. CBM Food Services runs the kitchen and has been contracted to handle all kitchen staffing, supervise jail workers, and order food, said WDAY. The jail’s cafeteria and kitchen are inspected twice yearly, said Laney, wrote the Herald. The jail has contracted with CBM for about five years.

Jail nurses noticed symptoms and, after being advised by the state of the problem, advised inmates to keep rested and hydrated, said WDAY. Hydration was the primary treatment; inmates were urged to drink water and Gatorade, said Nurse McLean, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

If the inmates have been sickened with a food borne pathogen, it remains unclear if the food contamination occurred at the jail or prior to the food being delivered, said WDAY. “We are obviously being very diligent and have our medical personnel go from pod to pod and talk with people. We are already seeing a large number of inmates eating lunch today. It seems to be passing very quickly,” said Sheriff Laney, wrote WDAY.

The investigation will attempt to determine if the illness was caused by an intentional act or a nonfood issue, said Sheriff Laney, who noted that while some inmates help serve food, they are closely monitored, according to the Grand Forks Herald. According to Laney, food served in the prior six days remains stored and will be tested.

Asked if the inmates voiced complaints about the food, Laney answered, “It’s a jail. The inmates complain about the food every single day,” the Herald reported.

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