Barbecue from Tega Cay fundraiser might be tainted, health officials say

TEGA CAY -- The state Department of Health and Environmental Control is urging anyone who purchased barbecue at a March 30 fundraiser for the Tega Cay Volunteer Fire Department to throw the food away.

DHEC believes the food might be contaminated, according to a Wednesday news release. When several dozen residents all became sick with the same food poison-like symptoms, it didn't take long before a possible connection was made to the Tega Cay Volunteer Fire Department's annual barbecue fundraiser, held Sunday.

DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said Wednesday night investigators are not certain the sudden illnesses were caused by the food served at the event, but more than 40 Tega Cay residents who reported the same symptoms -- mostly intense stomach cramps and diarrhea -- had eaten the barbecue there before getting sick. The fire department served more than 3,000 plates, officials said. Pork and chicken were served, but Myrick said DHEC is looking more at the pork as a culprit.

Myrick said DHEC is unsure how long it will take to determine the cause of the illnesses and trace it to a source.

"It depends on how long it takes cultures growing in a lab to grow," he said.

If it is a case of food poisoning, it will take further investigation to find out if the meat was tainted before it was purchased.

"It could be caused by a number of factors," Myrick said.

Tega Cay Fire Chief Scott Szymanski said the meat was purchased from US Food Service in Fort Mill.

"We're working with DHEC to find out if it was a vendor, something that happened in the processing or from a handler," Szymanski said. He estimated that "between cooks, people serving, probably 40 to 50 people" came in contact with the food. DHEC was given a list of names and contact information.

Szymanski said he and the department's members are upset that an otherwise successful fundraiser may have played a role in people getting sick.

"We're here to help people not hurt them," he said. "Most people who called to make us aware were gracious. I told them they could have a refund, and most people said they just wanted us to know. Our main concern is the welfare of everyone who came to our barbecue."

Ceil Runde, wife of Tega Cay Mayor Bob Runde, said she was ill for about six or seven hours after eating the barbecue.

"It wasn't that bad," she said. "It didn't even occur to me that's what it was, but I went to a meeting the next morning and a few people were not there because they called in sick because they had food poisoning.

"I feel bad for the guys (at the department) because they are trying to do a good thing for the community."