Since Sunday, Nov. 10, University Health Services (UHS) has observed an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis on campus. Gastroenteritis, or stomach flu, causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and spreads through misprepared food, contaminated water, and contact with infected people.
UHS broadcasted this information in an email sent out to the University community five days after the outbreak, clarifying that “there is no indication that the outbreak originated within campus dining facilities.”
Robin Izzo, the Executive Director of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), explained the University’s collaborative investigation process. After noticing an outsize number of students sick with a foodborne illness, UHS, EHS, and the Princeton municipality’s health department administered “food history questionnaires” to infected patients in order to ascertain where, when, and from whom they may have contracted the foodborne illness.
The three offices also “interview[ed] employees and supervisors of food service workers from the location where the patients ate to determine whether any of the staff may have been ill when preparing or serving food,” Izzo added.
Princeton Health Officer Jeffrey Grosser confirmed that the Department of Health is working with the University to gather data on the outbreak. As of now, the investigation process has not pointed to a single culprit for the outbreak. Grosser attributes this difficulty to the fact that the gastroenteritis microorganism is “ubiquitous at this time of year,” and that “foodborne illnesses can be acquired through” many different things, including “unsanitary cleaning practices, spoiled food, and person-to-person contact.”
In order to prevent the outbreak from spreading further, University Facilities and Dining Services are undertaking “enhanced cleaning protocols in residential dormitories, athletic facilities and dining venues,” according to Izzo.
Izzo explained that the University will be using bleach to sanitize “high touch surfaces such as door handles and railings” and will perform “additional cleaning of high touch surfaces.” Additionally, Campus Dining facilities will “more frequently” replace utensils and clean handles on “condiment pumps, milk dispensers, [and] coffee urns.”
Grosser stressed the additional need for educating students on how to avoid contracting and spreading gastroenteritis: UHS shared preventative advice to students via multiple emails and their social media, including washing one’s hands and avoiding “sharing towels, beverage bottles, food, eating utensils, and containers.”