By Usha Sutliff

Staff Writer for the Pasadena Star News

PASADENA – Health officials said Monday they may never know what caused a deadly outbreak of food poisoning at a church dinner Sept. 16.

     Mildred Mabb –an 80 year-old Temple city woman with a pre-existing medical condition – died, and up to 20 other people got sick following a Polynesian-style luau thrown by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

     The evening luau in Pasadena was attended by more than 1,200 people.  The menu included roasted pig, teriyaki chicken, cabbage-based salad with oil and vinegar dressing and bread rolls.

     One of the victims called the Pasadena Public Health Department on Sept. 21.  By then, it was too late to collect the cultures and other medical specimens that were crucial to the investigation, said Me Lim, manager of the department’s Environmental Health Division.

     “We may never find out what really was the cause of the outbreak at that church because of the lack of information,” Lim said.

     On Oct. 4, Pasadena health officials inspected the kitchen where the food was prepares.

     “Basically, everything was clean.  We did find one refrigerator that was …about 57 degrees.  We like to have it at 41 degrees Fahrenheit,” Lim said.  “(But) this is a church…They are not subject to the same regulations as restaurants.”

     To date, health officials have interviewed more than 15 people who go sick, along with the people who prepared the food, according to Lim.

     “We’ll probably just continue to interview those who became sick,” he added.

     Lim had some suggestions for church groups and others who plan to prepare food for large gatherings.

     “They should practice proper food temperature control.  Keep things hot or keep things cold and avoid preparing raw food and cooked foods at the same time.  That’s what we call cross contamination,” he said.

     Randall Huff, president of the church’s Pasadena stake, said the church will ensure that food handlers at future events are properly trained.

     “Not everyone, apparently, was trained in the (proper) food handling procedures (at the Sept. 16 event),” he said.

     The refrigerator has since had a part replaced and a thermometer will be installed, he added.

     “I don’t think (this) will affect greatly the turnout (of future events).  I think it will affect our careful supervision of future food handling,” Huff said.  “We have served many thousands of meals in church functions before.  This was the first time that we have had a large number of people who ever became ill following any church event.”

     Huff said church officials are also puzzled about what caused people to become ill.

     “We still are trying to figure out what the source (of the food poisoning) was and we’re still, like the health department, stumped as to the actual cause.  In any event, we’re going to be ultra-careful in any food preparation and handling in the future,” he said.