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Cass County inmates fall ill after being served casserole

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FARGO -- About 90 percent of the 184 inmates at the Cass County Jail became ill Sunday night and early Monday with a potential food borne illness, Sheriff Paul Laney said.

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Symptoms of the flu-like illness included diarrhea, vomiting and cramps, Laney said Monday at a news conference.

None of the inmates had to be taken to a hospital for treatment, though nurses from Fargo Cass Public Health did treat those whose symptoms were most severe, the jail's Chief Nurse Heidi McLean said.

Hydration was the main treatment, with inmates being urged to drink Gatorade and water, she said.

FCPH was informed of the illness Monday morning, McLean said.

Doug Jensen, a registered sanitarian with Fargo Cass Public Health, said all aspects of food supply, storage and preparation will be examined to try and determine where the illness came from.

There were no reports of illnesses among staff, Laney said.

No inmates missed court appearances due to the wave of illness, jail staff said. And some had already felt well enough to eat lunch on Monday, Laney said.

"We're very, very happy there weren't serious medical issues," Laney said. "We're not going to rest until we find out what happened."

Inmates were served a casserole with ground turkey, chili and macaroni; corn, cornbread, whipped butter, cookies and a powdered drink for supper Sunday, Laney said.

The jail has contracted its food services for nearly five years with CBM Food Service of Sioux Falls, S.D., Laney said.

Laney said the investigation will look into whether the illness was a result of an intentional act or caused by something other than tainted food.

Some inmates help serve food, but are closely monitored by staff, Laney said.

The Forum left a message seeking comment from Shane Sejnoha, CBM's corrections division president and operations manager. It was not returned.

Laney said food served the last six days is in storage and will be tested to be sure it does not contain any pathogen that could have caused the illness.

Steve Engen, director of staff development and facility inspections for the North Dakota Department of Corrections, said his department will yield to the state Department of Health in determining what caused the outbreak and follow up as needed.

He has not seen an outbreak of illness this large since he began inspecting jails in 2003.

"It's very rare. It's very rare," Engen said.

"Cass County does a good job and they take good care of their inmates," he said.

The cafeteria and kitchen at the jail are inspected twice a year, Laney said.

Asked if the inmates had complained about the food, Laney said, "It's a jail. The inmates complain about the food every single day."

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