Metro-East News

Salmonella cases linked to Belleville Chili Cook-off; investigation underway

A batch of chili is stirred at the Belleville Chili Cook-off in this file photo.
A batch of chili is stirred at the Belleville Chili Cook-off in this file photo.

If you felt ill after attending the Belleville Chili Cook-Off this year, the county health department wants to talk with you.

The St. Clair County Health Department and the Illinois Department of Public Health are looking into reported cases of salmonella nearly a month after the chili cook-off was held downtown.

The county health department said it learned on Saturday that less than a dozen cases of salmonella had been confirmed by the state department of health through lab testing. Since then, the county health department said it has followed up with those individuals, who included some from St. Clair County, other area counties and at least one from Missouri, according to the health department’s executive director, Barb Hohlt. Hohlt said in those cases, individuals had said they attended the chili cook-off on Oct. 8.

“The individuals had went to their medical provider, and from there, subsequent testing was done,” Hohlt said.

Hohlt said the health department does not know the source of the outbreak and is still investigating the incident.

“We’re interviewing people and trying to see if they can remember what they ate and what else they may have done that day,” Hohlt said.

Hohlt said it is important for anyone who may have felt ill after the event to contact her office. She said she is concerned about spread of the disease, which can be transmitted from person-to-person. Any ill people who work in a sensitive occupation, like child care, elderly care, immunocompromised people or those who work in food service, should be restricted from work until they are healthy.

The chili cook-off is an annual event held by the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce. It was held this year on Oct. 7-8 in the public square in Belleville. A spokesperson at the chamber on Thursday referred all questions to the county health department.

Wendy Pfeil, executive director of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce, had estimated that around 60,000 people attended the two-day event last month. Previous reports said 46 food vendors competed in the chili cook-off, and more than 60 were at the event.

Hohlt said health department officials inspected all of the vendors prior to the event. She said the Chamber of Commerce has a checklist that it provides to each vendor to make sure everything is sanitized as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that one million foodborne illnesses in the U.S. annually are caused by salmonella, which is a bacteria. Most people infected with the illness develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection, according to the CDC website. The county health department said salmonella can be spread from food contaminated at its source or it can be transmitted person-to-person.

The county health department has asked people who are sick or were sick after attending the chili cook-off to call 618-233-6175, ext. 4434.

Kaitlyn Schwers: 618-239-2526, @kaitlynschwers

Don O’Brien: 618-239-2626, @DOBrienBND