Report: Faulty ice machine may be cause of Red Bay school illnesses

Three possible causes identified

Investigators have identified a faulty ice machine as the “more likely” cause of a mass outbreak of illness at Red Bay Primary School earlier this month.

According to a report completed by the Department of Public Health and the Department of Environmental Health on Monday, and released to the public on Friday, “It is deemed more likely that the cause of the illness was linked to the chemical contamination from the ice machine. This was the main differing factor between the food served and food service at [Red Bay Primary School] and the food served at the Lighthouse School and George Town Primary School.”

However, a technician with Polar Bear Air Conditioning who was asked by officials to check the ice machine noted in his report that while the equipment was in poor condition and had a slight refrigerant leak at the bottom of its compressor, it was “highly unlikely that the ice machine caused any illness due to a refrigerant leak. Illness from the refrigerant would not likely occur unless there was a high concentration for a sustained period. These conditions did not appear to exist.”

The ice machine is no longer in use, the report stated.

More than 100 children and staff members fell ill after eating lunch at the school on Sept. 2. The food was prepared at the Mary Miller Hall, next door to the school. Food from that site was also served to students of George Town Primary School and Lighthouse School, but no one from those schools reported feeling ill.

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Friday’s report from the public health and environmental health departments included the ice machine fault among three potential reasons for the outbreak, the other two being “Toxic food poisoning, e.g. possible Staphylococcus aureus infection, of the foods” and “some other environmental contaminant within Red Bay Primary School.”

The kitchen at the school reopened this week.

The report recommended that increased food sampling surveillance of the food be undertaken for 30 days after the reopening of the kitchen; replacement or repair of the ice machine; consideration of reorienting the hot food serving area; repairing a door between the kitchen and server area to ensure it closes properly; and repairs to the hot holding cabinets to ensure accurate temperature settings.

For more on this story, see Monday’s Cayman Compass.


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  1. What are the personal hygiene procedures in the school kitchen. Are staff required to wash their hands whenever they have been out of the preparation area, bathroom breaks etc..Do they wear plastic gloves and hairnets whilst preparing food. Presumably there were checks for ecoli, one of the frequent sources of food poisoning in mass food prep areas.

  2. I cannot help but wonder if the ice machine had been turned off over the summer and then simply restarted at the beginning of the school year. If that was the case, could some type of bacteria massed over the summer contaminating the fresh ice?

    No expert, but I have seen the operation of commercial ice machines in the past, and can see this happening if it was not cleaned and sanitized before restarting.

    Hope everyone is back to good health!

  3. Yeah, right, give us a break from incompetence of the people in charge of the investigation.
    It is deemed more likely that they are not fit for this job. Have they involved a forensic special chemist in their investigation?
    What is more likely that it was a chemical contamination from environment. Arsenic poisoned land, the toxic dump, paraquat, over-chlorinated fountains in Camana Bay, what else the children on this island are being exposed to on a regular basis?
    Remember, they are not little adults, they are closer to the ground, they get more exposure due to their small size. A drop of poison might do little harm to a healthy adult, but might kill a child.
    This case clearly demonstrates that this island is not prepared for a potential and probable mass disaster caused by the toxic environment. But they are prepared for Ebola.