A significant outbreak of Salmonella last week in Tuzla could have affected fewer people had health institutions reacted faster.
At least 224 people became sick after they ate food from a well-known fast food restaurant, a doctor at the Health Center in Tuzla said. At least 15 of them required hospitalization. Health Center officials admit that they did not notify food inspectors quickly enough.
Dr. Gordana Kovačević admitted that the medical staff on duty made mistakes and as a result the Health Center would adopt new procedures to prevent this from happening in the future.
The first three patients showed up at the Health Center emergency room on Friday evening after they ate food from Bosburger. They complained of stomach pains. However, health experts say that staff failed to connect the cases and, as a result, nobody interviewed the patients.
On Saturday afternoon, 16 more showed up, with dozens appearing on Saturday night, officials said. Health Center doctors figured out by Saturday night that they were facing a food poisoning epidemic, but it took until Sunday to question any of the 100 or so patients that were receiving treatment.
Kovačević said that it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon, after the Center’s director arrival, that anyone contacted health inspectors. Younger and more inexperienced doctors were on duty over the weekend and were overwhelmed by large numbers of patients, she said.
Officials from the Tuzla University Clinical Center said that no one’s life is in danger.
This is not the first time health institutions reacted too slowly, municipal sanitary inspector Sahbija Šehović said.
‘It took us only 5 minutes to react because at the time we were working our weekend shift very close to the restaurant’ she said. An earlier reaction would have prevented some people from becoming victims, she said. Health laws mandate that medical care institutions notify authorities of such outbreaks.
Salmonella is a bacterium most commonly found in eggs, poultry, meat and water. Experts blame most outbreaks on poor hygiene, poor food handling techniques or improperly stored or cooked food.
Officials tested mayonnaise from the restaurant for contamination but the results were negative. They are still looking for the source of the bacteria.
Last year, officials traced a number of Salmonella outbreaks to Sarajevo area restaurants. An outbreak in May 2007 sickened at least 425 people who ate tainted food from Pizzeria Pomodorino.
The Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) conducted an extensive investigation last year into the dangers of eating food in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). In an award-winning series of stories, CIN had food samples taken from a number of restaurants and markets in Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka for testing by the Sarajevo School of Veterinary Science. Nearly half the dishes analyzed contained elevated numbers of microorganisms or were contaminated by bacteria associated with food poisoning and food spoilage.
Since then, authorities have not made significant changes to their inspection procedures or sanitary regulations in BiH.
Most poisonings happen during the summer months as the weather turns warmer.