Tennessee health officials believe that Hilton Garden Inn chili was the source of a Salmonella outbreak at the 2020 Gatlinburg Chili Cook-off that sickened 99 people. More than 500 people attended the one-day annual event held on November 12, 2020. Within days, the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) began receiving reports of illness.


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Health officials contacted the 13 vendors at the event and collected information on the ingredients they used to prepare the chili and their methods of preparation, storage, and service. On November 25, 2020, TDH contacted three vendors who had leftover chili and asked them to keep it until it could be collected for testing. But, when they arrived five days later, one of those vendors, Hilton Garden Inn, no longer had the chili.

On a subsequent visit to Hilton Garden Inn, TDH collected invoices and supplier information. Pork sausage from Swagerty’s Sausage Company of Kodak, TN was found to contain Salmonella Muenchen, the same strain cultured from ill cook-off attendants.  Using whole genome sequencing tests, TDH was able to identify the genetic “fingerprint” of the strains cultured from the sausage and found that it was highly related (they never say match) to the outbreak fingerprint.

Salmonella is not considered an adulterant in meat and poultry because these products are not eaten raw and cooking them to proper temperatures will kill the bacteria. So, a recall was never issued for the pork product. And, because the onus of providing the crucial bacterial kill step rests on the person or company that prepares the meat, TDH focussed its investigation on the Hilton Garden Inn’s “gross mishandling” of the product. They identified four crucial errors.

Salmonella lawyer- chili in a pot

  • Raw pork and beef were cooked in a hot-holding device not intended to be used for cooking raw meat so the sausage was likely undercooked allowing the Salmonella to survive.
  • Re-use of buckets to store par-cooked and fully cooked chili likely contributed to cross-contamination of bacteria.
  • Heated chili was cooled in 5-gallon buckets, filled to the top, covered, and immediately store in walk-in coolers, allowing bacteria to multiply.
  • Chili from these buckets was reheated in a device not intended for this use. The chili likely did not reach adequate temperature, allowing the bacteria to survive and multiply.

The Gatlinburg Chili Cook-off Salmonella outbreak sickened 99 people from 19 states, the median age of the patients was 45. They experienced salmonellosis symptoms including fever, fatigue, chills, nausea, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea that was in some cases bloody.

Free Salmonella Lawsuit Consultation

If you contracted a Salmonella infection from chili prepared by Hilton Garden Inn for the 2020 Gatlinburg Chili Cook-off and would like a free consultation with an experienced Salmonella lawyer, please contact the Pritzker Hageman Salmonella Legal Team. We have represented clients in every major Salmonella outbreak in the U.S. You can reach us by calling 1-888-377-8900, sending a text to 612-261-0856, or by completing the form below. There is no obligation and we don’t get paid unless we win.

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