Food poisoning reported

By Stewart Warren

A breaded catfish dinner might be behind about 30 cases of food poisoning affecting NIU students after they all ate the dish in a residence hall cafeteria Tuesday night.

About 10 of the Douglas Hall students were treated and released Tuesday at Kishwaukee Community Hospital. One student stayed in the hospital and was released late Wednesday afternoon.

NIU officials said they don’t know exactly what made the students sick.

“There’s no way of knowing at this point what they ate, where they ate or when they ate it. All I know is that they all were from Douglas Hall,” said Donald Buckner, associate vice president for Student Affairs.

“The first rumors were that everyone ate grilled cheese sandwiches, but then it turned out they didn’t,” said Pat Hewitt, associate vice president of business and operations.

Two Douglas Hall roommates who were stricken with the mysterious illness said they ate catfish for dinner in the residence hall’s dining room.

“At 7 p.m. on Tuesday I was typing an English paper when I felt sick. I laid down, and then I threw up,” said art major John Polacek, 18. “I threw up six times. I had to skip all four of my classes today,” he said.

“My roommate got sick before me. I thought ‘Oh, thank goodness I’m not sick,'” 20-year-old theater major Brian Smock said. “But at 3 a.m. I got really bad stomach cramps.”

Smock said he felt better Wednesday, but stayed in bed and missed his classes.

The first-time food poisoning cases baffled NIU officials.

“It’s a real mystery to us right now. We haven’t had any documented cases of food poisoning before,” Hewitt said.

Everett Groeschel, food inspector for the Illinois Department of Health in Rockford, checked the Douglas Hall kitchens and couldn’t find any problems, Hewitt said.

The food service staff routinely saves food samples from each meal for 48 hours, and Groeschel will be testing them, she said. He also will interview the 30 students.

NIU’s food service dishes up about 21,000 on-campus meals daily, Hewitt said. “We don’t know how it happened. We’ve wracked our brains,” she said.

Hewitt said officials are testing for bacteria but are worried the cause might be a virus, which won’t be revealed by the tests.

In any case, some of the sick students said they are leery of eating residence hall food.

“It distresses me. There is nothing I can do about it,” Smock said. “We’re at the mercy of the quality of the food.”