ACT News

Lawsuit likely in ANU mass food poisoning from chicken liver pate

Victims of a mass food poisoning at Australian National Unviersity celebration last year intend to launch legal action against the caterer.

Fifty-three students fell ill with gastroenteritis after the end of year celebration at Burgmann College.

Some have engaged lawyers with the intention of suing Scolarest, the company that feeds the college of 350 students.

An ACT Health investigation found the likely cause of the outbreak had been "insufficient cooking of campylobacter contaminated chicken livers used in the pate".

The outbreak was first identified in October 2013 after ANU health service was swamped by gastroenteritis cases among residents of Burgmann College.

Victims reported suffering from symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps, sweating, headache, nausea, and back pain.

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ACT Health were notified and found a Valete or valedictory dinner function attended by about 289 people at the college on October 25 was the likely cause.

Fifty-three of the guests were struck down and analysis found those who ate the chicken liver pate carried an increased risk of illness.

Testing of victims revealed the presence of campylobacter jejuni. a species of bacteria commonly found in animal faeces.

The bacteria is a frequent contaminant of poultry liver, can survive brief frying, and is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis across the globe.

Leftover pate from the function tested positive to the bacteria; however, the strain was different to that found in victims.

But a summary of the ACT Health report on the probe concluded that the poisoning was likely to have beenĀ  caused by the pate.

Canberra law firm Aulich Civil Law confirmed it had been engaged to act on behalf of 20 poisoned students.

Aulich Civil Law director Jonathon May said papers had not yet been filed against Scolarest with the Canberra courts, but the law firm intended to commence civil action on behalf of itsĀ  clients in the coming months.

"Some of our clients had long standing symptoms over a number of weeks, opposed to a few short days," Mr May said.

"We haven't yet commenced civil action but we have notified the contractor in writing of our intention to do so."

Burgmann College caterer, Scolarest, which is part of the Compass Group, said it had the claims under review.

"Following an event catered by Scolarest at Burgmann College in October 2013, there were reports of a number of attendees becoming ill," a Scolarest spokesperson said.

"We recently received correspondence from several people who attended that event and are in the process of reviewing."

Burgmann College principal Dr Philip Dutton said the health and wellbeing of students had been a priority.

"After the dinner we came aware of 23 confirmed cases of reactions and illness to food contamination at this particular event," Dr Dutton said.

"The College took immediate action in response to those residents who presented and sought an immediate and comprehensive response, rectification and restoration of best practices with our contract caterer in consultation with ACT Health."

The outbreak follows the ACT's largest salmonella poisoning at a Dickson restaurant last year.

The owners of the Copa Brazilian Churrasco restaurant were sued for an estimated $1 million and charged with criminal offences after more than 160 people fell ill after eating potato salad made using bad raw egg mayonnaise.

As a result, about 15 people were hospitalised, Canberra Hospital's emergency department reportedly had one of its busiest days on record, and some victims are understood to still be suffering long-term health problems.

A major ACT Health investigation found a supplier in Victoria to be responsible for the bad eggs.

The restaurant never recovered and eventually closed its doors and left Dickson in June this year.