The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) of Wisconsin, USA, said that the recent outbreak of a mysterious gastrointestinal illness that affected 90 children and five teachers from three different schools in the Racine Unified School District was probably caused by soft flour tortillas served at the schools.

The Wisconsin DPI also pointed out there have been reports of other outbreaks around the country, and there is no long term effect on the people who became ill. They have also pulled the product and it has not been used since the outbreak, they said.

The official release from the DPI says that state and Racine city health officials are investigating the outbreak in three middle schools, and although lab tests are still to confirm it, they suspect the source to be 6-inch soft flour tortillas that were served at lunch in all three schools on 31st October. They asked the schools not to serve the product any more.

Spokeswoman for the state health department, Stephanie Marquis, said:

“While we don’t have a true link, that’s the commonality.”

The flour tortillas are all made by one supplier. They are packed in plastic bags containing 12 tortillas each, with a bag weight of 12 ounces. The tortilla packages are packed 40 to a case, which carries the label Del Rey Flour Tortillas 6″.

The manufacturer Del Rey Tortilleria Inc is based in Chicago. In January 2006, they recalled all their tortilla products because there were complaints of stomach pains, vomiting, nausea and other gastrointestinal illness symptoms linked to their product, said the FDA in a statement at the time.

While the company was visited by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently, the agency said its investigation was still ongoing and they did not rule out the illness may have come from other products such as the meat that was served at the same time as the tortillas.

State officials are continuing to assess the situation, and other state and federal agencies are involved, including the FDA who are testing the product.

The product has not been recalled, pending the outcome of tests and investigations.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (JS Online), the custodial staff of the Racine Unified School District spent hours sanitizing door knobs, drinking fountains, bathrooms, lockers and desks at the affected schools. And the nurses that were involved in responding to the outbreak were commended by the DPI who called their response “exemplary”.

Click here for JOS Online report of this news.

Written by: Catharine Paddock