Anzac Day Food Poisoning Mystery May Be Solved

The "dramatic" outbreak of gastroenteritis at an Anzac Day luncheon may have been caused by microbial toxins in a "low-risk" condiment.
August 14, 2019

An investigation into the food-borne illness outbreak that gave nearly 40 people acute gastroenteritis at an exclusive Anzac Day luncheon has found that the mostly likely source of the outbreak... was relish.

Investigators spent three months trying to recreate the quince, fig and barberry jam relish that caused dozens of people to “drop like flies” with symptoms of food poisoning.

"It was a pretty dramatic food-borne outbreak," said Dr Brett Sutton, Victoria's chief health officer. A rabbit, chicken and pork terrine was initially suspected to be the culprit, but after testing samples of the terrine and ingredients used to make the relish, no definitive source was identified.

109 interviews with diners and staff members led investigators to believe that the relish that was served with the terrine was the most likely culprit; however, when they tried to recreate the dodgy relish under various conditions, they were unsuccessful.

"Dehydrated barberries, barberries with boiling water, the relish refrigerated for three days, the relish left out, none of it allowed sufficient growth of bacteria that would have caused that illness," said Dr Sutton. So, while investigators still believe that the relish was the source of the outbreak, they could not confirm this outcome with certainty.

“There are often many limitations in food-borne disease outbreak investigations, so it is not unusual for an investigation such as this to result in an inconclusive outcome,” said Dr Sutton. "I suspect that something in that relish, barberries or the fig jam, carried a toxin at the time and the boiling water that was used in the processing wasn't sufficient to kill it."

Seven people were taken to hospital after being struck down with rapid onset food poisoning but none were admitted.

The Melbourne Cricket Club and catering partner Epicure have said that extra precautionary measures have been put in place since the outbreak.

“As this was an isolated incident and no issues were found with food processes, there is no ongoing risk to the public and no further action is required,” concluded Dr Sutton.