Inquiry finds 'nothing criminal' in likely rat poison at Fuddruckers

New legislation proposed

March 24, 2011|By Frank D. Roylance, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County police have closed their investigation into a food contamination incident that closed the Fuddruckers restaurant in Annapolis for a day last week.

After "numerous" interviews, county detectives found "nothing criminal" in the appearance of suspected rat poison on trays of hamburger stored in a walk-in refrigerator, said police spokesman Justin Mulcahy. The matter was handed back to the county health department.

Health officials could offer no explanation as to how the poison came to be found on food trays, but suggested that employees, rather than a professional exterminator, were responsible.

"Employees said they have been using that product for a while," said county health department spokeswoman Elin Jones. But "there is no justification for the location of the pellets."

"It's supposed to be applied outside food storage areas," she said. "Fuddruckers does have an exterminator, but according to the exterminators, those pellets were not their product."

Health inspectors will continue to monitor the restaurant, Jones said.

They first responded after an anonymous phone tip on March 16. They quickly found pellets believed to be rat poison on trays in a walk-in refrigerator. The food was destroyed, and the utensils and restaurant were cleaned.

The restaurant reopened the following day.

Samples of the green pellets were sent to the Maryland Department of Agriculture for analysis. "We're not really sure how long that will take," Jones said.

No one is known to have fallen ill as a result of the incident. Nobody from the restaurant could be reached for comment.

"We have had emailers and callers saying they had symptoms, or had become sick after eating there," Jones said. But "the time frame, as well as the symptoms, didn't really match up." She estimated the number of contacts at fewer than 10.

In the meantime, Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority leader who represents parts of Calvert and St. Mary's counties, has late-filed a bill in the House that would add the words "rodenticide or other substance used to kill rodents" to the definition of poison in criminal statutes barring intentional food contamination.

The current law makes it a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, to "knowingly and willfully contaminate, attempt to contaminate, or conspire to contaminate any drink, food, food product, or food supply by adding disease germs, bacteria, poison or poisonous matter."

The proposed legislation also adds, specifically, "food service facility" and "food that will be prepared for human consumption" as included under the statute.

Anne Arundel County Health Officer Douglas Hart said O'Donnell's proposed wording "strengthens the existing law … [and] ties it specifically to food service facilities, and not just the generic food supply."

And that will help local health departments "better enforce food service facility standards and protect the public," he said.

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