Sargent food poisoning claims determined to be stomach flu

Amy Hamblin

The Daily Northwestern

After several students eating at Sargent Dining Hall showed symptoms of food poisoning, area coordinator Brandy Jensen sent an e-mail to Bobb Hall residents Monday asking students to report any suspected incidents. Despite concerns, food service investigation has confirmed that these incidents were just a severe case of the stomach flu.

Starting a week and a half ago, students began exhibiting stomach flu symptoms similar to food poisoning, sending at least two students to the emergency room.

Student’s symptoms included vomiting, nausea and diarrhea. Many students noted that their symptoms subsided after about one day of repeated vomiting.

“I have never been so sick in my life,” said Allison Hicks, who visited Evanston Hospital after throwing up about twenty times within eight hours. “It was horrible.”

Hicks, a Weinberg sophomore, said she no longer believes she had food poisoning since Paul Komelasky, district manager for Sodexho USA at Northwestern, looked into the matter and told her that it wasn’t. Sodexho — NU’s dining service provider — has not had any verified incidents of food poisoning one campus.

After hearing about the incident, Komelasky said he immediately called University Health Service, which reported that there have been no recent incidents of food poisoning.

Komelasky sent a copy of Hick’s e-mail to Anne Vanosdol, the assistant director for food service operations, to make her aware of the complaint. She said she called Evanston Hospital to determine the cause, which was cited as a “viral infection.”

Hicks said the hospital never informed her of her diagnosis.

If the hospital does find a suspected case of food poisoning, it is required to call Evanston Health and Human Services Department.

Jay Terry, the department’s director, said he had not been notified of any incidents on NU’s Evanston campus. He said it is not unusual for his department to receive tips about cases of food poisoning that are later determined to be false.

The process to rule out food poisoning is quite involved, said Donald Misch, director of University Health Service. A food history for the patient must be constructed of what, when and where the person ate. After this is done, they must corroborate the incident by finding others who also got sick eating the same food at the same time and place.

Misch said he was not aware of any incidents of food poisoning on campus. He said he wants students to alert University Health Service if they suspect food poisoning, although he believes many students confuse it with the stomach flu. The stomach flu recently has been spreading around the Evanston Campus, he said.

“We have seen a lot of cases of it at health services,” he said, adding that students living in residence halls are particularly susceptible. “It is worse where you have crowded living areas.”