Charles Coffield, a resident of West Alexander, PA., fell very ill shortly after consuming a serving of clam chowder at the Chincoteague Chili & Chowder Cook Off. This festival is coordinated by the volunteer fire department in Chincoteague Island. Coffield exhibited reactions including vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, cramping, high fever and more. He has since filed a suit in Accomack County requesting a jury trial for damages of $500,000 against Shrimp Heads Inc. in Chincoteague, Virginia. This organization was determined by the health department as the source of the food shown to contain salmonella.
The Eastern Shore District of Health (ESDHD) reported that of those who attended the event, approximately 180 individuals claimed to have experienced some degree of illness. Roughly 50% of those people received medical attention, and 20% did so through an emergency room; fortunately there were no fatalities. Residents visiting from Delaware, New York, New Jersey and West Virginia were among those who became ill. The health department investigation revealed that the chowder was responsible for the salmonella.
The incident was referred to as a “point-source outbreak” and the risk of illness is gone. Dr. David Matson, Director of the ESDHD, says it was an isolated problem associated with that particular chowder product served that day. He further showed his confidence by going to the location and enjoying a bowl for himself. Coffield had been driven by emergency responders to the hospital and was still experiencing the effects for a couple weeks and missed some work.
Salmonella is a bacterium that leads to a salmonellosis infection. Mild cases will improve with rest in approximately 5 days with symptoms including diarrhea and cramping. There are a variety of potential ways that the infection can spread such as:
- Meats: Beef, veal, turkey, duck, chicken, and pork
- Drinking milk that has been contaminated is frequently cited as a common cause
- Any food that has had contact with animal manure that is contaminated
- Water that is either consumed or used to help in growing produce items
- When cooking with a contaminated item, it may be spread to other foods through contact
The suit contends that the defendant had a responsibility to comply with foods laws and guidelines to exercise reasonable care in selling an unadulterated product. In addition, the defendant is responsible for exercising care in their hiring, observation, and management of their workforce, purveyors, and subcontractors, which was breached. That negligence was demonstrated through sales of contaminated food contrary to federal and state law (a failure to comply).
The resulting injury to the plaintiff was clear evidence of a breach of reasonable care and establishes negligence per se. Mr. Coffield suffered damages including personal injury, loss of enjoyment, medically-related expenses, lost wages, travel-related costs and emotional hardship. Meanwhile, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company expressed regret for the many people who were impacted and says they plan to continue this annual event but will do so with many more additional safety precautions.