One person has died and more than 30 others were hospitalized in what the state health department says is one of the largest instances of salmonella poisoning in state history.
All told, 118 people got sick at a Korean wedding reception in Columbia Aug. 29. They ate contaminated food that guests had brought to the reception from as far away as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to Tory Leonard, health department spokeswoman.
"We're not sure how they handled the food or if they had proper food care," she said.
State health officials have determined that salmonella bacteria was present in eggs used to prepare one or more of the dishes. Officials have interviewed guests and are currently testing samples of some of the food to pinpoint the tainted dishes.
State health officials refused to identify a 22-year-old Silver Spring woman who died Sept. 4 of a salmonella-related infection Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. Her death marked the first caused by salmonella poisoning in the state this year.
Officials also have refused to identify anyone else involved in the Aug. 29 incident. They said the department's policy is to keep the names of victims confidential.
No caterer or restaurant was involved in making food for the Columbia reception, which was held at the Meeting House in the 5800 block of Robert Oliver Place. Officials said that no one is to be prosecuted in the case.
Eleven people were taken to Howard County General Hospital during a three-day period after the reception. Seven were admitted, three of whom were put in the critical care unit, according to Pam Karwan, hospital spokeswoman. All have been released.
Other guests were admitted into nearby hospitals, including two children at St. Agnes Hospital.
People who rent out rooms for parties or receptions at the Meeting House are allowed to bring food for potluck buffets and don't have to apply for a health department permit. The Meeting House -- an interfaith center run by a handful of congregations -- wouldn't release any information about the Aug. 29 event. Joel Barry Brown, president of the Meeting House board, said the food policy will be reviewed at the board's next meeting.
From January to August, the health department recorded 602 cases of salmonella poisoning in Maryland -- down about 230 cases from the same period last year.
Salmonella poisoning is linked to either poultry or eggs that are insufficiently cooked or eaten raw. Eggs are sometimes served raw or undercooked in such foods as Caesar salad, cheesecake, pudding and crab cake mix.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture traces 75 percent of all salmonella outbreaks to raw eggs. An estimated one in 10,000 eggs is contaminated with the microorganism. The presence of one infected egg in a recipe can cause anyone eating the food to become ill.
Salmonella cases have been on the increase in the United States. In 1985, the federal Centers for Disease Control recorded a total of 26 outbreaks that caused 1,166 cases. By 1991, the agency had logged 66 outbreaks that caused 2,110 cases. (The federal figures do not include isolated cases that were not a part of outbreaks.) Symptoms include vomiting, fever, diarrhea, dehydration and abdominal pain.