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Health Investigators Still Baffled By Cause Of Salmonella Poisoning

April 13, 1985

CHICAGO (AP) _ Investigators say they have done everything but tear out the walls and floors of a suspect dairy, but the cause of a salmonella outbreak that has poisoned almost 5,000 people in five states remained a mystery Saturday.

Health inspectors continued dismantling and testing machinery at the Hillfarm Dairy in suburban Melrose Park on Saturday, and planned to work through the weekend, said Susan Weidel, legal counsel for the state Inspector General’s office.

Meanwhile, Jewel Companies Inc., which sold the milk from the dairy in many of its 217 stores, has weathered two bomb threats and faces 30 pending or threatened lawsuits and possibly the cost of cleaning up milk that employees improperly dumped into storm sewers.

There have been 4,742 reports of salmonella infection - which causes fever, nausea and diarrhea - in Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa, Ms. Weidel said Saturday. At least three deaths have tentatively been linked to the outbreak, she said.

Illinois had 4,408 of the reported cases, with 3,392 of them confirmed.

Jewel spokesman Jim Henson said the company has replaced all products from the Hillfarm dairy with milk from a new contractor and is trying to reassure customers that its goods are safe.

″I don’t know what else we can do,″ he said. ″We certainly regret what has happened.″

Louis Shultz, program manager of the Illinois Public Health Department’s dairy section, said workers have ″done everything but tear out the walls and floors brick by brick″ at the dairy.

″We’ve got ifs, could-be’s and mights, but we’re no closer than we were two weeks ago,″ he said. ″Every sample we’ve taken there has shown complete pasteurization. We’re baffled.″

Salmonella was found in 2 percent Hillfarm milk with an April 8 expiration date and 2 percent Bluebrook milk with a March 29 date, both produced at the Melrose Park dairy, said Henson.

He said he had no idea how much the outbreak is costing Jewel.

″We aren’t going to know until we get all reports back from stores,″ he said. ″We’re spending all our energy now on determining the (contamination) source.″

A bomb threat called in Friday to a Jewel store near Benton Harbor, Mich., was the second in two weeks. Henson said a bomb threat had been called in to a Chicago store earlier. No bomb was found in either incident.

Meanwhile, the Illinois attorney general’s office is considering a request from state Environmental Protection Agency Director Richard Carlson to seek damages of more than $100,000 from Jewel because of the dumping of milk into storm sewers after it was withdrawn from store shelves.

″It’s unfortunate that that incident occurred. There was an obvious mistake,″ Henson said, adding that Jewel workers were anxious to get rid of the milk quickly. But he said health officials said the dumping never posed a threat to the public.

Among the first salmonella victims was Thomas Caprini, 76, of Wheaton, Ill.

After drinking tainted milk about two weeks ago, he became sick.

″I was nauseous and had diarrhea. I was so sick I didn’t want to get out of bed and go to the hospital,″ he recalled.

″I’m scared of milk now,″ he said. ″I used to really enjoy it.″

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