According to Brownwood/Brown County Health Inspector Paul Coghlan, the accident occurred around 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 10 and disabled the refrigeration unit on a semi-truck trailer full of frozen chicken. Coghlan says the Texas Department of Public Safety worked the accident scene until approximately 9:30 p.m. and condemned the trailer load of chicken due to its partial thawing and possible health risks. He explained that the chicken posed a hazard with consumption of either salmonella or food poisoning, both of which can be life threatening to anyone with a compromised immune system.
After the insurance company released the contents of the trailer to be disposed of on Feb. 15, someone from the company decided to take the chicken, not knowing of the health risk that it posed, to nonprofit agencies such as Good Samaritan Ministries and the Salvation Army in Brownwood, according to Coghlan. Both agencies refused the donation because they are required to only buy or accept raw meats from licensed distributors. The man then went to local churches and donated many cases of chicken which were then passed on to individuals in need, Coghlan said.
As soon as Coghlan received the report about the man possibly donating the contaminated chicken, he and Dr. James Hays began trying to find where the chicken was distributed. They also notified the Brownwood Regional Medical Center emergency room so that cases of food poisoning or salmonella could be tracked. The man who donated the chicken was located and he gladly cooperated, giving officials a list of places he left the chicken, Coghlan said. Brownwood Police were also called in to assist in the search and interview of possible recipients of the tainted meat.
No criminal act was committed as the man was not trying to sell it but rather help people in need, according to Coghlan.
"The man was trying to do a good deed, unfortunately some people don't know how to handle meat safely," said Coghlan. "I feel like we would have seen something by now if anyone was going to get sick from the meat; however it does still have potential to be dangerous."
Coghlan stated that some of the people who received the chicken would not give the meat back, but they were warned of the possibility that they may become ill if they consumed it. They were also given tips on how to tell if chicken is contaminated, to look for air in the packaging which signals decay, a slimy feel to the meat, or a foul odor when the packaging is opened.
Coghlan said schools, hospitals, prisons, and day cares have not accepted any of the contaminated chicken, and that the meat was only accepted by churches and individuals.
Brownwood City Manager Bobby Rountree did a radio spot alerting residents of the danger the chicken posed.
Of the 40,000 pounds of chicken on the trailer, less than 3,000 pounds have been accounted for and the public is still urged to dispose of this chicken if received.
Coghlan stated that the Health Department will continue to look for the meat for another six months but don't know if they will find any more cases.
"I don't want to panic the public," said Coghlan. "I am praying that we dodged a bullet because so far there has been no illness related to the meat reported."
This incident was the largest complaint Coghlan has seen in the county since he took his position as health inspector.
"This is the largest complaint we've ever had to my knowledge," said Coghlan. "If nothing else, it has given us one heck of a training. This was actually a show of how well our agencies work together. The police department was very helpful and got people to talk to us."