Food tampering alleged at Leawood’s Hereford House: Was public promptly notified?

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A customer of the Hereford House in Leawood said she’s comforted to know there’s no ongoing risk of illness after possibly eating food allegedly contaminated by a former worker.

Leawood police announced on Tuesday that test results from the former employee indicated that there was “no ongoing risk to patrons for infectious diseases.”

The Olathe woman, who declined to be identified because of concerns for her safety, said that while she is relieved, she has not been able to eat out since the alleged crime became public.

More than 300 people have contacted Leawood police after the Johnson County District Attorney charged 21-year-old Jace Christian Hanson of Kansas City with a felony count of unlawfully adulterating or contaminating food at the restaurant at 5001 Town Center Drive in Leawood’s Town Center Plaza.

The alleged crime, considered to be a criminal threat, is said to have occurred between March 26 and April 25. The district attorney’s office and Leawood police asked those who fell ill after eating at the restaurant to contact police.

Hereford House has since narrowed the number of days the alleged tampering would have occurred to 12, roughly between April 6 and 23.

Hanson remains in Johnson County jail on a $100,000 bond.

Lack of information

After the alleged food contamination was announced, several callers to The Star expressed frustration over the lack of information released in the following days.

Initially, prosecutors didn’t say how Hanson allegedly contaminated the food when charges were announced on April 30. They later confirmed that some “bodily fluid” was introduced into the food, but they didn’t publicly verify the type of bodily fluid.

It wasn’t until court documents released on May 8 that it was revealed Hanson allegedly created videos of himself urinating in food and rubbing food items on his genitals and buttocks and using his feet to touch food. He allegedly posted those videos online.

On Tuesday, police issued a statement responding to questions about future health concern that said test results from Hanson indicated no ongoing risks for infectious diseases.

Leawood’s new police chief, Brad Robbins, said he could not provide much information about when and how it was decided to notify the public about the health risks without jeopardizing the investigation.

“We have been in contact with the Johnson County District Attorney’s office, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department of Agriculture (who handle restaurant inspections) throughout the investigation,” Robbins said.

“During these conversations we’ve shared the concerns received from those Hereford House diners who’ve contacted us, which ultimately led to the information we were able to release yesterday” (Tuesday).

A timeline of events showed that Hanson was arrested on April 25. Prosecutors charged him, and he made his first appearance the afternoon of the following day.

The Johnson County District Attorney’s Office announced on April 30 that it had charged Hanson with tampering with food and asked people who had eaten there between March 26 and April 25 and became ill afterward to contact Leawood police.

Meanwhile, the restaurant said it learned of the tampering on April 25 when police showed up to speak with Hanson. Upon learning of the allegedly contaminated food, the restaurant destroyed all the food and cleaned and sanitized the kitchen and surrounding areas.

Ryan Sinclair, an associate professor of environmental microbiology at a southern California university, believes that those involved had a good response to the potential health risks of exposure to harmful bacteria in urine and feces.

“It sounds like people knew that there was a contamination event and that’s important thing to get across immediately,” said Sinclair, who has a doctorate in water quality and a master’s of public health.

Informing those who might have been exposed was important, said Sinclair. When these kinds of contamination events happen, it occasionally takes several weeks before any notice is released.

“In this case, it’s a good thing that it came out quick within a few days,” Sinclair said.

Police are still asking customers who experienced illness after eating at the restaurant to contact them through an online form, email at or by calling 913-266-0696. Customers who already have contacted the police do not need to resubmit their information.

Threats to food chain

“This incident is shocking,” said Carla L. Schwan, an assistant professor and extension food safety specialist at the University of Georgia.

Regarding threats to the food supply chain, those in food safety talk about and study intentional contamination, said Schwan, who has a doctorate in food science. This case feels close to home for her because she completed her master’s, doctorate, and post-doctorate studies at Kansas State University.

There can be various health risks and diseases associated with food contaminated by bodily fluids and body parts, including bacterial infections like E. Coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and Shigella, and viral infections like norovirus and Hepatitis A, Schwan said in an email interview.

The chances of becoming ill from food contaminated with bodily fluids depend on several factors. In the Hereford House case, those factors include the amount of urine the food was contaminated with and whether the individual had bacteria or viruses or was sick, she said.

“Generally, ingesting food contaminated with urine can increase the risk of bacterial or viral infections, especially if the urine contains pathogens,” Schwan said.

Those who are pregnant, young children, older individuals and people with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of experiencing severe complications from food-borne illnesses caused by contaminated food, Schwan said. They also have a harder time recovering from diseases.

When it comes to food safety, people need to be aware of common symptoms associated with foodborne illnesses — nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and in some cases, headaches or muscle aches — and should see prompt medical attention if they suspect they have eaten contaminated food, she said.

Sinclair, the southern California university professor, said another public health issue from this incident is the “yuck factor” effect on people who ate there, especially with the details that have come out.

“That is definitely something that should be considered,” he said. “People are going to be, if anything, really unlikely to visit that restaurant again.”

Just thinking about what allegedly happened sometimes creates psychological factors that are also a burden, Sinclair said.