Health officials in Columbia County, Florida, have confirmed that Staphylococcus aureus was the cause of a food poisoning outbreak at the Science Olympiad held at Florida Gateway College in Lake City. At least 30 people were sickened and taken by ambulance to hospitals from the event, which was held on Saturday, February 4, 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus Infection
Staphylococcus aureus bacteria under a high magnification of 10,000 times.

The patients were taken to Lake City Medical Center and Shands Lake Shore. All of those sickened were treated and had been released by Saturday evening.

Smoked chicken, macaroni salad, chicken sandwiches, baked beans, and pulled pork were served at the lunch during the science competition. Health officials collected samples of all of those foods sent them to the Bureau of Public Health Laboratories. Testing uncovered Staphylococcus aureus at an amount “well above the standard cutoff threshold used to confirm a foodborne illness outbreak” in the pulled pork. None of the other foods tested positive for any pathogenic bacteria.

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria produce a toxin that can cause vomiting with a quick onset. People usually get sick within 30 minutes to 6 hours after consuming food contaminated with the toxin. Most people recover completely within 24 hours. It’s important that anyone who was sickened in this outbreak stay hydrated and rests. If symptoms do not improve or if they get worse, see your doctor.

The illness caused by this toxin is not spread person-to-person. The only way to get sick from Staphylococcus aureus is to eat food contaminated with the toxin it produces.

If you or a family member were sickened after attending the Science Olympiad and eating the lunch provided at that event, contact Sallie Ford, the Columbia County Environmental Health Director, at 386-758-1058. The Florida Department of Health in Columbia County is still conducting interviews with anyone who ate that meal as part of the outbreak investigation.