Authorities investigate after 55 homeless people go to hospital for suspected food poisoning

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) – Public health officials are trying to figure out how 55 homeless people came down with symptoms of food poisoning.  Emergency crews rushed them to local area hospitals late Sunday night. 

“When it hit me, it was like an instant, ‘bam!’ My stomach felt like it was going to explode,” said Mark Hofheins Jr., one of the people affected. 

Hofheins says it was not long before he realized others outside the Salt Lake City homeless shelter started feeling the same symptoms. 

“There was just a gang of people that were really sick and going through stomach pains — throwing up in trash cans…” he recalled. 

Officials have confirmed the suspected cause their illnesses is food poisoning.  

“This is the biggest medical case like this I’ve ever experienced,” said Jasen Asay with the Salt Lake City Fire Dept.

Salt Lake County public health officials say they are now trying to trace the contamination to its initial source.  Epidemiologist Ilene Risk says right now, one of places of interest is Saint Vincent’s Dining Hall. 

“Saint Vincent’s is one of the establishments we’re looking at because it is a common place where people who are homeless that are staying at the Road Home [Shelter] eat,” Risk explained. 

Christian Watson is homeless himself and volunteered to help serve dinner, Sunday night.

“It was called, ‘goulash,'” Watson recalled.  “It had corn, peas — it was all mushed up together…” he told Good 4 Utah’s Ali Monsen. 

That particular kitchen served 500 people and just 50 of those people came down with symptoms.  Sundays are also big days for private humanitarian groups to go serve the homeless at Pioneer Park and other areas nearby, so clearly, the source is going to be difficult to track. 

Either way, homeless shelter tenant Cynthia Gilbert says it is sad to see her friends suffer.

“I was praying for them because I know how hard it is when we’re down on our luck…” Gilbert said.  “That’s just another thing that went wrong that day,” she explained. 

Again, the Salt Lake County Health Department has started an in-depth investigation to pinpoint the exact cause of all this.  Until they have more answers, it is unclear who will be responsible for all the medical bills.  

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