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Dakota Datebook

Killdeer School Food Poisoning


One of the deadliest foodborne epidemics in North Dakota killed 13 people, 12 of them in mere days, after a dinner party in 1931 in Grafton. Seventeen people attended the neighborly get-together. The deaths resulted from a botulism linked to a salad made with home-canned peas. Five of the dead were from one family. State health and regulatory officials investigated the tragedy, which came days after other major North Dakota news items, including a notorious lynching near Watford City and the death of a pioneer cowboy who knew Theodore Roosevelt from their Medora days. 

Years later, on this date in 1956, the state’s Department of Health launched another investigation into a foodborne epidemic. Sixty students and staff at Killdeer Public School were sickened one Friday from a hot lunch eaten by 104 people. Seven were hospitalized overnight in Dickinson, including the school janitor and six children ages 10 to 17. The principal, a grade school teacher and eight of 10 grade-school basketball players were among those sickened. More than half the student body was ill. 

An investigator sent food samples to North Dakota’s Public Health Laboratory in Bismarck. The lunch had consisted of potato salad, salmon, macaroni-tuna fish salad, chocolate pudding and milk. A school cook had prepared the lunch, which was part of the state’s hot lunch program in schools.

The investigation and test results pointed to the potato salad, which contained “excessive amounts” of staphylococcus bacteria. The salad’s potatoes had been boiled, peeled and sliced the day before, and left standing overnight at room temperature until the salad was prepared the next morning. Furthermore, it hadn’t been refrigerated before being served.

Everyone who fell ill recovered over the weekend and was back in school on Monday.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura



The Bismarck Tribune. 1931, February 2. Pages 1, 7

The Bismarck Tribune. 1931, February 9. Page 1

The Fairfield Times. 1931, February 13. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1956, March 10. Pages 1, 2

The Bismarck Tribune. 1956, March 14. Page 10

The Minneapolis Star. 1956, March 14. Page 9

The Killdeer Herald. 1956, March 15. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1956, March 16. Page 15

The Killdeer Herald. 1956, March 22. Page 1


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