Scores Sickened With Food Poisoning at Sunday Celebration
A Mother's Day celebration at the Chuang Yen Monastery in Kent Cliffs turned distressing Sunday afternoon when scores of guests attending the garden party became sickened with food poisoning and were taken to area hospitals.
Officials said 700 men, women and children were on hand for the Buddhist Day Garden Party annual event at the picturesque retreat off Route 301 when guests suddenly began feeling sick, many vomiting and experiencing flu like symptoms and diarrhea.
The Putnam 9-1-1 center became inundated with calls and dispatchers contacted Kent Police and EMS personnel countywide.
A triage center was set up on the grounds of the monastery directly in front of the Great Buddha Hall and EMT's from the Kent F.D., Carmel Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Putnam Valley Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Mahopac Falls F.D, Philipstown Volunteer Ambulance Corps and TransCare Paramedic Service treated patients before ordering that 35 be taken to area hospitals (Putnam Hospital, Hudson Valley Hospital Center and Vassar Brothers Hospital) for additional emergency care.
To complicate matters, 80 attendees of the festival who had been transported to Putnam by charter coach from Orange County fell ill on their way to Woodbury Commons and EMS personnel from the western side of the Hudson assisted those victims.
Others fell ill in Westchester. A family of four returning home became ill in Harrison while a van returning to Chinatown with guests from the party made an emergency stop at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla when its passengers came down with the sudden illness.
Putnam County Health Director Rebecca Wittenberg reported Monday that although the original cause of the outbreak was believed to have been a rice ball mixture with stir fried vegetables officials decided to send food samples taken from the monastery and forward them to a state laboratory in Albany for analysis. As a result, she said, the cause of the outbreak will not be known until test results are received.
Shawn Rogan, Putnam County Public Health Sanitarian, was called to the scene to assist EMS personnel and police.
After conferring with officials of the monastery with the assistance of a translator, Rogan said the food was not provided by a vendor or the monastery itself: "People brought the food with them and shared it with their friends and neighbors similar to a pot-luck dinner. This is why the source of the contamination is so difficult to trace."
Rogan asked anyone experiencing digestive discomfort who might have been at the monastery on Sunday to call the Putnam Health Department at 808-1390, ext. 43159. Rogan also urged attendees to discard any left over food brought home from the festival.