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Rash of Intestinal Disorders Likely Not Caused by Goosebeary's Food

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Sports Editor

A wave of serious illnesses reported to the Medical Center over the past two weeks are likely the result of a stomach flu rather than food poisoning from the food trucks behind Building 66, according to David V. Diamond, a staff physician and chairperson of infection control in the Medical Department.

"Careful inspections are being made, but the trucks are safe at this point," Diamond said. Thus far, 45 students have reported symptoms of stomach and intestinal illness and several have said they ate at Goosebeary, a popular Chinese food truck that serves several hundred meals a day.

"We're looking carefully to see if it might be food-related, but right now, we have no evidence" that the illnesses were caused by food eaten at the Goosebeary truck or any other truck, Diamond said.

"I don't think there should be a reason for panic or to avoid that truck at this point,"Diamond said. "The owners are aware that there was a question raised and they're being particularly careful."

The Medical Department has commissioned special tests of the trucks, in addition to tests already performed by the City of Cambridge, Diamond said. The earlier tests showed no evidence of bacteria or unsanitary conditions.

No clear cause for reported illness

Symptoms of food poisoning vary, but can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. Muscle aches or fever often indicate a stomach flu rather than food poisoning, Diamond said.

With the wide range of symptoms reported in the recent series of cases, it is difficult to ascertain the exact nature of the illnesses and whether or not they are linked to the Goosebeary truck, Diamond said. Tests of stool samples from 15 people failed to identify a food poisoning bacteria, such as a dysentery bacteria.

"If we had a major problem with food sanitation, we wouldn't be seeing three to five people a day, we'd be seeing 100,"Diamond said.

Diamond suggested that people who have more than a minor symptom be evaluated at the Medical Center. The treatment in most cases of food poisoning is to wait it out, he said. However, in severe cases, an antibiotic can be given.

Five cases reported first night

Suspicion was first aroused when five students reported to the Medical Center the night of Jan. 8 and the following morning with stomach problems, Diamond said. Four of the five students reported eating at the Goosebeary truck earlier that day.

By the middle of the following week, roughly 20 people had reported symptoms, about one-third of whom had eaten at the Goosebeary truck, Diamond said.

By lastFriday, 30 scattered cases had been reported to the Medical Department. As rumors circulated over the long weekend, another 15 people reported similar symptoms.

Not all of the people ate food from the Goosebeary truck, but many did, Diamond said.

A year ago, the Goosebeary truck was believed to be the cause of a dysentery outbreak affecting half a dozen students, apparently because "the temperature in one of the warming containers was not adequate,"Diamond said.

However, until the recent reports of illness, no other cases had been reported, and subsequent inspections have not turned up any problems.

Additional tests pending

The Medical Department has arranged for Krueger Food Laboratories to inspect the food trucks at MIT on a monthly basis, with the first inspection yesterday, Diamond said. Results of that inspection will be available in a few days.

The food laboratory, which already inspects MIT's food service locations, is able to inspect more thoroughly than the tests by Cambridge inspectors, Diamond said.

Those tests, performed immediately after the first cases were reported earlier this month, showed no evidence of unsanitary conditions or bacteria at the Goosebeary truck, said Joseph Nicoloro of Cambridge Inspectional Services. The truck had also passed an inspection in December.

Inspectors look at the food and meal storage temperatures and how the meals are handled, packaged, and served, Nicoloro said.