Team D Super Sleuths
Minnesota Model Watch
In 2008,Team D sprang into action to find the culprit in a major salmonella outbreak. Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced “The Food Safety Rapid Response Act of 2009”at the School of Public Health.
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The Minnesota Model
After more than 25 people who ate at the same Twin Cities restaurant became ill, Team Diarrhea (aka “Team D”) joined the hunt for a culprit. In just two weeks, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) disease detective team, made up largely of SPH students, solved the mystery.
Team D identified jalapeño peppers as the salmonella source and, in doing so, helped close the book on a high profile and costly food-borne disease outbreak.
How they cracked the case
To crack the case, the team extensively interviewed people who had reported their illnesses to the MDH. When two of the victims said they had eaten at the same restaurant, the students gained an important clue.
An interview with the restaurant owner found he had stopped serving suspected tomatoes weeks earlier. The team then interviewed both sick and healthy restaurant customers to learn what both had eaten.
This process helped to pinpoint a jalapeño garnish as the culprit. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture then used invoices to trace peppers used in the garnish back to their source—farms in Mexico and a warehouse in Texas.
Joshua Rounds, second-year epidemiology student and a member of Team D for about 18 months, says, “We’ve worked on about 10 salmonella and norovirus outbreaks since I’ve been here, but nothing of this magnitude. It felt really exciting to make an impact.”
Minnesota is a leader
Minnesota leads the country when it comes to the response to food-borne illnesses and to replicate that model, Sen. Amy Klobuchar came to the School of Public Health in June to introduce ” The Food Safety Rapid Response Act of 2009,” which she co-wrote with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).
Two things set Minnesota apart from other states in response to outbreaks: attitude and quick action.
According to Carlota Medus, state epidemiologist and SPH alum, each case of salmonella and E. coli is considered the first case of a yet unidentified outbreak. A Minnesota state health worker immediately interviews every victim and uses a standardized form to get a deep history.
Hospital or clinics takes specimens and sends them, per Minnesota law, to the state lab for further testing to see if they match other cases nationwide.
That lab does its testing fast and sends reports the state’s epidemiologist every day.
If patterns begin to emerge, a health worker interviews victims a second time.
Talking about how Minnesota leads the way in finding the source of serious food illnesses, Klobuchar said, “The nation should not have to wait until someone in Minnesota gets sick or dies before there is an effective national response to a large-scale outbreak of food-borne illness.”