A Stony Brook student fell ill with a confirmed case of salmonella last fall, prompting the Suffolk County Department of Health to conduct an illness investigation on Dec. 4, 2015 that focused on two restaurants, Jasmine and West Side Dining.
University staff responsible for food safety have claimed to know nothing about the salmonella case, even though details of the investigation are spelled out in publicly available inspection reports maintained at the eateries.
The unidentified student fell ill in September and was diagnosed with salmonellosis by a physician and confirmed by lab results, according to the report, which does not identify the lab. It was reported to the county as required by the state sanitary code.
Although there was no clear evidence which meal caused the student to become sick, she was interviewed by a public health nurse and reported eating tuna sushi from Jasmine three or four times a week prior to the illness, and she also ate frequently at West Side Dining, according to the reports.
A Suffolk County Department of Health spokesperson declined to provide further details about the student or her illness, citing medical confidentiality laws.
When asked about the salmonella case, a university spokesperson referred all questions to the Faculty Student Association, also known as FSA, which is responsible for Campus Dining Services.
“Campus Dining has not received any notifications from any patron or the Suffolk County Department of Health regarding an alleged salmonella case at Jasmine,” FSA spokeswoman Angela Agnello said.
George Anderson, the new campus dining sanitarian for the university, also claimed to know nothing about the investigation. Anderson was hired in January, a month after the investigation.
“To be honest with you, I’m not aware of it either,” he said.
The county sanitary code requires that all food establishments retain a copy of their last inspection on the premises and make it available to any patron upon request.
Bill Egan, who has been a restaurant manager at Jasmine since last August, said he was unaware of the December salmonella investigation, which is described on page 3 of the inspection report. Egan said that another manager must have been on duty on the day of the inspection.
Salmonella is a bacteria that affects approximately 1.2 million Americans a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although it is most commonly found on undercooked meat, it can also be found on fruits and vegetables. Symptoms generally include fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps that last about a week. In serious cases, salmonella can be fatal.
West Side Dining was inspected on the same day as Jasmine, but the report stated that that inspection “did not reveal any food holding or temperature violations.” The inspection found that West Side Dining was generally following health department guidelines for food safety.
While inspectors found few problems at West Side Dining, they found five “critical” violations at Jasmine. These violations are more likely to be associated with food-borne illness.
The inspectors found that tuna scrape, which is tuna scraped off the tuna skeleton and commonly used in some sushi rolls, and ground tuna were measured as existing at a slightly elevated temperature — about 7 degrees higher than required for safety.
The inspection report also found that a few sushi items were not being held at the right temperature and had the restaurant discard them. Twelve individual meal packages of assorted sushi rolls were also discarded because they were at too high a temperature.
Under new rules in place at Jasmine, some potentially hazardous foods can be kept without temperature controls as long as strict time limits and guidelines are met.
But inspectors found the new rules were not being followed “in that products are either missing timing indicator or are still noted on shelf past time expiration.”
One of Jasmine’s 50 employees called in sick during the time period in question, but the reason for her illness was not documented. The inspection report states that the manager was directed to contact the employee to obtain the reason for the illness.
The university did not make students aware that there was a confirmed case of salmonella on campus. Anderson, the new food sanitarian, said there have not been any food-borne illness outbreaks on campus since he arrived a month after the Jasmine investigation, but he said that if there were, the university would notify students.
If only one case is confirmed, it does not need to be reported, Grace Kelly-McGovern, a spokeswoman for the Suffolk County Department of Health, said.
“If it is not a cluster of cases, we can’t link it to any dining establishment,” Kelly-McGovern said.
When asked, some students said they thought the university should have told them about the case.
Bradley Amazan, a senior health science major, said knowing about the salmonella case might affect “maybe what you eat but not where you eat, because you eat where you have the most convenience.”
Lawrence Nzuve contributed reporting to this story.
Correction: May 7, 2016
This previous version of this story did not credit Lawrence Nzuve for the reporting he contributed to this story. This story has been updated to include recognition of his contribution.