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Health officials say at least 17 were sickened, 3 fatally, by Thanksgiving meal

Nov. 29, 2016: A woman walks in front of the American Legion Hall, which has served a free Thanksgiving dinner, in Antioch, Calif.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco Bay Area, health officials warned the public Tuesday to throw all the leftovers from a community Thanksgiving meal, which they suspect killed three people ill and at least 14 people.

Officials are still working to determine what specifically is the cause of the diseases, but they seem to have limited the source to a church sponsored meal held at the American Legion hall in Antioch, Calif.

The free, community meal is an annual event that this year turned tragic. Thursday is the feast, organized by the Golden Hills of the Community of the Church served 835 people, including residents of assisted living facilities, the homeless and anyone who wanted a holiday meal, health officials said.

All of the people sick ate the food of the event and most became ill within 24 hours, said Dr. Louise McNitt, deputy health officer for Contra Costa County. The three people who died were in the hospital and on Friday and Saturday. More details about their deaths were not immediately available. As of Tuesday, one person remained in the hospital and the rest were recovering at home. Those who are sick, who ranged in age from teenagers to their 70s.

“Anyone with food this event should not eat and throw away,” McNitt told a news conference Tuesday. “This is probably a food-borne illness, but the investigation is ongoing.”

The food came from a variety of sources. There were turkeys, ham and sweet potato dishes donated by volunteers who prepared them at home and other items that were prepared on site, such as instant mashed potatoes and the stuffing, the sauce and green beans that come from packages and were warmed up, said Dr. Marilyn Underwood, environmental health director for Contra Costa Health services.

Officials had initially said on Monday that eight people ill, including three who have died, and thought that all who are sick, who lived at the same assisted living facility, which leads to the presumption that they can become ill from food eaten at home or elsewhere.

But by Tuesday, as the number increased, officials learned that the 17 people were residents from at least three assisted living facilities. Not all 17 attended at the church meal; some were relatives of people who worked at the facilities who ate the leftovers brought home to them.

A number of them, including the three who died, lived at the facilities called Minerva’s Place and Minerva’s Place IV in Antioch, in the East of the Bay Times reported.

“It is tragic. They thought that they have a good Thanksgiving, and now they have died,” Emerito Gonzalez, administrator of the homes was quoted as saying. “I just want to know what happened. I don’t want this to ever happen again.”

Autopsies were performed Tuesday. Contra Costa County coroner’s officials said they could not release the names of those killed pending notification of the next of kin.

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