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Study Describes Salmonella Outbreak

November 4, 1998

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ The setting seemed innocent enough.

At ``character breakfasts″ where guests at Walt Disney World could meet and greet Mickey, Minnie or Goofy, 29 diners who drank unpasteurized orange juice came down with salmonella poisoning in a two-month period in 1995. Another 33 Disney guests also got sick from drinking unpasteurized orange juice at the theme park resort in the same period.

A report on the Disney outbreak published today in the monthly Journal of the American Medical Association supports toughening standards for fresh juice production _ an issue that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently championed.

``Consumers need to be aware that all unpasteurized juices may potentially transmit ... infections,″ the report said. ``Consumers can reduce their risk for illness by drinking only pasteurized fruit and vegetable juices.″

The report was written by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FDA and public health officials in Florida and New Jersey.

The Disney case was unusual because the salmonella was a rare type and health officials had never thought orange juice could transmit salmonella. Other pathogens such as E coli and hepatitis A had previously been found in orange juice.

Health officials found 62 people from 21 states who visited Disney in May and June 1995 and came down with salmonella poisoning. Those who became ill had not traveled together. Seven people were hospitalized.

The health officials estimated anywhere from 1,240 people to 6,200 people could have become ill from the outbreak but didn’t report it. Salmonella poisoning can cause fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Symptoms usually last for several days. It is rarely a cause of death but may occasionally lead to serious complications.

The juice was made at Florida’s Own Juice Co., whose Winter Haven plant was shut down after the outbreak.

``That plant could not operate today,″ Peter Chaires, associate vice president of the Florida Gift Fruit Shippers Association, said of the Florida’s Own plant. ``We realized that we had a bad apple out there. ... The plant was in awful condition.″

The JAMA report said cracks and holes were visible in the plant’s walls and ceilings, animal droppings were present and there were reports of frogs around processing equipment. Salmonella was found in a toad outside the juice-processing building.

This fall, the FDA began requiring producers of unpasteurized juice to stick warning labels on their product, which fresh juice producers said was unnecessary. The warning labels say the juice may contain bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

Fresh-squeezed juice makes up less than 2 percent of orange juice produced in Florida. The rest is pasteurized, a process of heating liquid to a certain temperature to destroy disease and bacteria.

Citrus juice producers last week won an eight-month reprieve from the FDA that will allow them to keep warning labels off their juices provided they come up with measures, such as chemical washing, that will significantly reduce pathogens.

Since the outbreak, Walt Disney World has decided to sell only pasteurized orange juice, the report said.