published Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Chicken temporarily off UTC menu after 25 diners experience 'digestive distress'

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students, from left, Madeleine Brown, Brock Pressley and Jenna Caraccill say the food in the Crossroads dining hall is just fine.  Since Aug. 20, some of the patrons have complained of symptoms of possible food poisoning.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students, from left, Madeleine Brown, Brock Pressley and Jenna Caraccill say the food in the Crossroads dining hall is just fine. Since Aug. 20, some of the patrons have complained of symptoms of possible food poisoning.
Photo by Tim Barber.

FEELING ILL?

UTC urges students and employees suffering from the symptoms of digestive distress -- or who have recently gotten over them -- to contact Student Health Service at 425-2266 or call the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department at 209-8190.

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    Deborah Morgan works the hot food line in the Crossroads dining hall at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Wednesday is chicken day, according to Morgan.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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Chicken is temporarily off the menu at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's most popular cafeteria because it's suspected of causing severe "digestive distress" for 25 students and staff who ate there.

Prolonged diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting and chills are some of the food-borne illness symptoms that have affected diners since Aug. 20, according to a university news release.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department suspects that the confirmed cases of salmonella and campylobacter bacterial food poisoning stem from chicken served at Crossroads Dining Hall, a $3.1 million facility that opened in August 2011 on the ground floor of Guerry Center. The facility was funded entirely by Aramark Food Services, which operates UTC's dining facilities.

"All of the ill [people] had that in common: That they ate at Crossroads," said Nettie Gerstle, the health department's communicable disease control program manager.

"We have not ID'd specifically that it is the chicken," she said. "[But] we have our suspicions that it might include chicken, just because these organisms are very frequently found in chicken."

The number of cases peaked on Aug. 22-23, Gerstle said.

UTC officials say now the number of students reporting symptoms has dropped dramatically.

The health department didn't find any evidence of mishandled food at Crossroads, Gerstle said.

"We did a couple of unannounced inspections as part of our investigation, and they did very well," she said. "We didn't find any problems."

Crossroads serves about 2,000 people a day, said its manager Lee Whitehead, of Aramark. Chicken will return to the menu Wednesday, he said.

Crossroads is UTC's only all-you-can-eat cafeteria. It's open seven days a week for breakfast through dinner. For $7.65, including tax, students, staff -- and the public -- can eat all they want of a variety of food including pizza, hamburgers, salad and ice cream.

There's talk on campus about the food poisoning, said Brock Pressley, a UTC sophomore studying environmental science and anthropology.

"They're like, 'There's salmonella.' At least some people are worried about it," said Pressley, who was sharing a table Monday at Crossroads with a group of friends. "I'll take my chances. I love this place. I can eat as much as I want."

Jenna Caraccilo, a sophomore studying entrepreneurship who was with the group, seconded that.

"I love Crossroads with all my heart," she said. "It's awesome."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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