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Salt Lake County health officials Monday were investigating a possible mass food poisoning, which sent 50 or more homeless people to area hospitals.
Salt Lake City Fire Department crews rushed to The Road Home shelter at 210 S. Rio Grande after staffers called 911 about 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
There, first responders found dozens of transient clients in varying states of distress. Many were treated on the scene, while 48 were transported to hospitals and seven more reportedly sought medical help on their own.
"None of them were critical," Fire Department spokesman Jasen Asay said Monday, "but we had a lot of people suffering from vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and stomach pain."
In addition to a fleet of ambulances, paramedics loaded about 15 of the less-seriously ill patients onto a bus for transport to the hospital.
While food poisoning was suspected, the exact cause of the illnesses remained undetermined Monday.
The Road Home's development director, Celeste Eggert, implied Monday the tainted food was provided by another homeless-services agency, but refused to identify it.
"The Road Home does not provide meals to single men and women. Families in our shelter have access to a kitchen facility and may prepare their own food if they like," she said. "Most clients eat their meals at various agencies who provide meals to the homeless.
"We do occasionally have volunteer groups who provide meals to the shelter clients, but we did not have any volunteer meals this weekend," Eggert added. "All I can say is we are quite confident the meal did not come from The Road Home. We are not going to speculate on any of our partner agencies and possible culpability."
She referred further questions to county health officials.
County Health Department spokeswoman Pamela Davenport confirmed that epidemiologists were investigating "the suspected foodborne illness incident at The Road Home shelter last night," but did not specifically identify the source of the tainted food.
"The investigation is just beginning and we [do] not yet have definitive answers about the source of the illness," she said. It could take up to a week to conclude the probe.
Health officials said that most of those taken to the hospital were released within a few hours, but one person remained in the hospital Monday.
The Road Home does not have a dining hall or soup kitchen but it does have space to store food. It accepts produce from commercial suppliers and prepackaged goods.
While dining halls and soup kitchens must have county food handling permits, The Road Home and similar organizations are not required to have such a license under state law.
In 2014, the Utah Legislature exempted "charitable organizations" from the list of event holders required to obtain food-handling permits, tossing some food-safety requirements so long as the event provided free food to a "disadvantaged group."
Reporter Annie Knox contributed to this story