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Florida's Department of Health Issues Final Report
 Concerning Alleged Food Poisoning at

 Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys

By Michael Welber, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Jul. 30, 2005 - After a month of waiting, the news on the alleged food poisoning incident at Hawks Cay Resort in June is finally in. The report brings both good and not-so-good news. The positive part is that the State Department of Health found no specific cause for the incident, which occurred when 80 Monroe County Health Department employees lunched at the Duck Key resort.

According to Juan Suarez, regional environmental epidemiologist for the health department for food and water borne disease, his team found no pathogen that they could isolate. While that's a big relief, the fact that no culprit was found is always of concern.

The department tested all the foods that the twelve people who got sick ate. It also tested stool samples from that group and a control group of an additional twelve. The conclusion?

"There were no nasty bugs," Suarez said.

His department suspects that ingredients in the salads such as Caesar's salad that some people ate might have caused the problem. However, the level of contaminants found even in those foods was very low.

All eighty-some members of the Monroe County Health Department were meeting at Hawk's Cay for a two-day session in mid-June. Everyone had just eaten a lunch prepared by the Hawk's Cay banquet kitchen when some began suffering symptoms of what appeared to be food poisoning. No one else became ill and none of those who did ended up in the hospital.

Suarez said that his department gets about thirty complaints of suspected food poisoning in the Keys each year. Only a third of those turn out to be verified as food poisoning.

Finding the cause was made even more difficult because the number of people in this group who became ill was so low.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which inspects the kitchens of hotels and resorts, also took a look at Hawks Cay after the report came in but found no violations.


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Copyright (c) 2005, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

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