Intentional Salmonellosis from Salad Bars

In september 1984, the wasco-Sherman, OR, Public Health Department began to receive reports of Salmonella typhimurium gastroenteritis from patrons of two restaurants in The Dalles, OR. More than 750 cases were identified. By one week after initiation of evaluation by epidemiologists, investigators determined that multiple self-service salad bars had been contaminated, and knew the probable times of contamination. Common innnocent methods of contamination were excluded, and a criminal investigation ensued.

Followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh purchased land in 1981 hoping to establish an international headquarters; they incorporated the city of Rajneeshpuram, but this charter was subsequently challenged. During a search by law enforcement agents, an open vial of commercial S. typhimurium that had been purchased before the outbreak—and matched the strain of the outbreak—was found in a laboratory operated by the religious commune. Informants testified that Rajneeshpuram commune members had prepared cultures of the S. typhimurium that were intentionally poured on food items on salad bars and into coffee creamers. The intention was to make a sufficient number of citizens of The Dalles ill that, on election day, they would not be able to vote on issues that were of interest to the commune members.

In 1986, two commune members were indicted and convicted.

Torok T, et al. JAMA 1997;278: 389-395.