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Diners at Hillel Report Possible Food Poisoning

UHS Investigates Cause of Illness

By Emily B. Wong

Harvard's Office of Environmental Health and Safety (OEHS) and University Health Services (UHS) are investigating a possible food poisoning incident which occurred during Saturday's lunch at the Hillel dining hall.

UHS Director Dr. David S. Rosenthal said that about 10 people have reported illnesses which may be related to the meal.

As investigations began, officials were questioning everything about the incident.

Many students who attended the Saturday meal suspect that chulent--the only hot dish served at the lunch--may have caused the illnesses.

"Pretty much anyone who are it got sick," said Sara A. Siris '99.

Chulent is a traditional Sabbath stew prepared from potatoes and meat.

According to Jewish law, cooking is not allowed from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday. Because of this, Hillel has only served cold lunches on past Saturdays.

Hillel recently bought a special pot designed to simmer chulent overnight, allowing it to be prepared before Sabbath and eaten the next day.

"[There was a] debate over how you could cook it so that it would be safe," Siris said.

Because it was the first time chulent would be served this year, there were posters at Hillel which advertised the meal, said Ilana N. Kurshan '00, who attended the lunch.

"People were very excited," said Kurshan, who is a Crimson reporter.

Hillel refused to comment on the incident, referring questions to Harvard Dining Services (HDS).

The Hillel dining hall is classified as one of HDS's campus restaurants. Food is prepared in the Hillel kitchen by an HDS chef.

HDS cautioned against drawing a relationship between the food and the sickness until further evidence was gathered.

Leonard D. Condenzio, interim director of HDS, denied that there was a serious food poisoning problem.

"It is a rumor," he said.

Chuck Krause, who is investigating the incident for OEHS, said that as of Monday afternoon there was "no clinical evidence" that food poisoning was to blame for the illnesses.

He pointed out that "this is the time of year when flus can hit."

Krause said officials "weren't sure of the numbers" of people who had reported symptoms, which included diarrhea, over the weekend.

According to Condenzio, only four or five of the 59 people at the meal reported symptoms.

Estimates by students who ate at Hillel on Saturday, however, ranged from 10 to 40 afflicted.

Rosenthal said UHS would conduct an epidemiological investigation, which may include isolating the suspect food, culturing available left overs and analyzing samples from people who are still sick.

Students from Boston University visited Hillel this weekend, and joined in Saturday's lunch.

The source of the illnesses is not known at this time. UHS officials urge any student who ate at Hillel Saturday and who is experiencing symptoms to contact UHS or the OEHS.

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