Tainted Corned Beef At Famous Deli Gave Food Poisoning To 94

Posted: December 30, 1986

Seventy-seven patrons became ill with salmonella food poisoning last month after eating corned beef at the Famous Deli, 700 S. Fourth St., a city health official said yesterday.

In addition, 17 employees of the restaurant were found to be infected with the Salmonella B-Heidelberg virus, said Stephen Foelster, acting assistant chief of the food-protection division of the Department of Public Health.

The employees received letters from the department prohibiting them from returning to work until they tested free of the bacteria.

Foelster said yesterday that the department was "still concluding" its investigation. The restaurant owner cooperated in the investigation and changed the way corned beef is stored there, he said.

"The establishment is a safe place to eat," he said. "The people were very cooperative, honest and outgoing."

David Auspitz, the owner, said yesterday that all the employees were back at work. The incident was "one of those horrible, horrible things that happen," he said.

"We've sold millions of pounds of corned beef before," said Auspitz. ''We're in compliance now" with city guidelines, he said, adding, "We have a perfect reputation. It could happen anywhere at any moment, and nobody can control it."

As many as 1,600 people may have eaten the infected corned beef, which had been improperly stored, said Foelster. He said the New Jersey Health Department had informed him that one person was hospitalized in that state

from eating the corned beef. He also said that another person who called the city's Public Health Department complaint line had said that 10 people in one group became sick.

Foelster said that it was impossible to pin down the exact source of the food poisoning, which occurred between Nov. 13 and Nov. 16, but that the department's investigation indicated that improper storage and handling of corned beef were to blame.

Although samples of corned beef taken from the restaurant a week after the incident were not infected, Foelster said that leftovers obtained from those who had become sick contained the bacteria.

"Everything points to the corned beef," Foelster said.

Salmonella poisoning causes vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, fever, cramps, headaches and chills, with the symptoms noticed anywhere from 90 minutes to 4 1/2 days after infection, he said. Most people feel sick within eight to 16 hours after becoming infected.

Foelster said salmonella flourishes at temperatures between 45 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. At the Famous Deli, Foelster said, the corned beef was boiled in a stockpot filled with water. When the cooking was complete, the water was discarded and replaced with fresh water to cool the meat. The meat was stored in that water, with employees taking it out by hand, slicing it and putting it back in the water until all the meat was sold.

"Water is a good vehicle for (bacteria) transmission," he said.

Salmonella bacteria are found in animal and human feces and proliferate on bathroom surfaces, said Foelster. They are usually transmitted by hand.

Foelster said that raw chicken bought at a grocery commonly contains salmonella bacteria, which is killed by correct cooking. Many people contract food poisoning because they use a cutting board for raw chicken, then use the board for other food, allowing the bacteria to spread, he said.

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