Cause of Red Bay Primary School illness still unknown

Two weeks after more than 100 students and teachers at Red Bay Primary School were taken ill after eating lunch, little information about the cause of the outbreak has been released, and the school’s kitchen has reopened. 

Principal Vicki Frederick said she received a report from officials on Tuesday indicating that the cause of the outbreak is still undetermined. 

“Nothing was found,” Ms. Frederick said of the report. 

Mark Ray, head of business services in the Department of Education, said the report is being reviewed internally and a statement on the findings will be released soon. 

Ms. Frederick said the kitchen at Mary Miller Hall, where the students eat lunch, reopened Tuesday. It had been closed since Sept. 2, the day of the outbreak. The caterer of the school lunches, Mise en Place, also resumed its lunch operations at Mary Miller Hall on Tuesday. 

Those who became ill experienced vomiting and nausea, leading to some speculation about food poisoning. But samples of the food served at lunch that day came back negative for anything that would cause illness, and tests on the food handlers came back negative for the kind of bacteria that causes infection, according to Mise en Place Managing Director Sean Collins. 

“Obviously we want [the investigation] to be as fair as possible,” Mr. Collins told the Cayman Compass Tuesday. “But rather than put the focus on the canteen, there should have been more emphasis on questioning the children who took ill and looking at whatever possibilities there might have been beyond the food at lunchtime.” 

In a press statement released on Sept. 8, Mr. Collins said he had been informed by the Department of Environmental Health that day that the tests on food samples had come back negative, and that Mise en Place could resume operations. 

A statement from the Department of Public Health released on Sept. 9 reported that the department was “confident that the kitchen facilities are adequately sanitized” following measures including “a comprehensive testing of food samples.” 

“All conclusive findings will be made known to the public,” Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Samuel Williams said in the statement. 

Euphema Cole, who works for Mise en Place at Mary Miller Hall, has a daughter who attends Red Bay Primary. She said she and her daughter both ate the lunch served the day of the outbreak. Ms. Cole did not become ill, but her daughter did. 

“I just feel it is not the food because Lighthouse [school] gets the food and George Town [Primary School] gets the food and no child was sick there,” Ms. Cole said. “I ate the food and I wasn’t sick. Other workers ate the food and weren’t sick.” 

She said officials from the Department of Education spoke to parents at a PTA meeting at the school on Tuesday night, informing them that the test results on samples taken from the canteen had come back negative and an investigation into the cause would continue. 



  1. The investigation is indeed mind blowing. Pun intended. The first common sense step would have been to take blood, stool and urine samples from as many ill people as possible and analyze the results.
    It really is frightening the way it has been handled.
    The island is not prepared to deal with potential and probable consequences of the toxic dump and arsenic poisoned land.
    I see zero community response to this disturbing case of mass illness. Puzzling.