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Salmonella breaks out in R.I.

As of Wednesday morning, 75 cases of salmonella had been reported as part of an outbreak centered at DeFusco's Bakery in Johnston and Cranston, according to Annemarie Beardsworth, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Health. Of the 75 people who contracted salmonella, two have died, and two are still in the hospital, Beardsworth added.

The outbreak came to the attention of the Department of Health March 25, when 15 patients at the West Shore Health Center, a nursing home in Warwick, fell sick and tested positive for salmonella. The Department of Health searched the kitchen at the nursing home but did not find anything that would cause the illness and began to look at what food had been brought into the nursing home.

The nursing home had ordered zeppole, an Italian pastry, from DeFusco's Bakery as a part of a St. Joseph's Day celebration. Investigators "found significant violations of the food code" at the bakery upon inspection, Beardsworth said, and DeFusco's was closed that day. All food products from the bakery were recalled.

Several victims are currently in the process of filing suit against the bakery for medical expenses, negligence and pain and suffering. The Johnston bakery voluntarily closed March 25, according to a Department of Health press release. Calls to both of the bakery's locations revealed that the numbers are out of service.

According to the Food Establishment Inspection Report, ready-to-eat pastry shells used for zeppole, eclairs and cream puffs were stored in egg cartons, which could potentially contain salmonella bacteria from the eggs. Other violations included sinks that were not easily accessible and properly supplied to ensure that employees washed their hands, equipment and utensils that had not been properly sanitized, food that was stored on the floor and accumulations of dirt and debris. Many of the same violations had also been found when DeFusco's Bakery was last inspected April 23, 2010.

"Foodborne outbreaks are relatively common," Beardsworth said. "What's unique about this outbreak is the number of people who are ill, the percentage of young people who are ill and the percentage of people that are being hospitalized."

Twenty-nine victims — about 40 percent of those infected — were hospitalized due to the illness.

Beardsworth also noted that the deaths of the two individuals cannot be officially traced to salmonella. Though they had eaten baked goods from DeFusco's Bakery and tested positive for salmonella, there was no physical evidence linking their deaths to the bakery, she said.



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