Jail Illness Likely Food-Borne, State Health Department Says

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BENTONVILLE (KFSM) — An illness that infected several inmates and briefly put the Benton County Jail on lock down last week appears to have been food-borne, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

The inmates’ symptoms matched most food-borne illnesses, like salmonella and norovirus, said Meg Mirivel, health department spokeswoman. She added that the illness abated rather quickly and there haven’t been any new reports of sickness.

A health department inspection done Jan. 11 — the same day as the lock down — found that inmates wearing permanent ID bracelets and processing raw ground chicken were also involved in serving food.

The report noted three other critical violations: debris and food obstruction in at least three hand-washing sinks, no detectable levels of disinfectant in santizer wipe buckets and an uncalibrated food temperature thermometer.

The health department says critical violations can cause illness if the problem is not fixed quickly.

Jail officials declined to comment Wednesday (Jan. 17), saying they haven’t yet received a report on the outbreak from the health department.

The jail’s previous routine food inspection — conducted in November 2017 — noted only one non-critical observation, that staff needed to provide towels at each hand-washing sink in food prep, toilet and ware-washing areas.

Non-critical violations likely won’t lead to immediate illness, but failure to make changes could lead to an outbreak, according to the health department.

The November 2017 inspection also found the jail wasn’t providing adequate hand-washing facilities, which the health department considers a risk factor for food-borne illnesses.