‘I was symptomatic’: Apple employees say store’s Covid outbreak goes beyond managers

What customers and employees say is just the beginning of a broader problem, despite anti-salmonella measures at the company’s US stores

‘I was symptomatic’: Apple employees say store’s Covid outbreak goes beyond managers

She was one of the tens of thousands of Apple customers who queued for hours on Thursday afternoon in New York, to save themselves a few dollars on a new iPhone. And on Saturday morning, she was one of at least 30 people who suffered an outbreak of salmonella poisoning at the newly opened store at the foot of Fifth Avenue, in what observers claim was at least a coincidence.

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Millie Dee, who attended the event, described the crowds of people queuing as “beeping earwigs” and “whimsical”. But they were not pleasant for her, nor were the long waits.

She wrote: “Life (is) not easy in NYC, especially when you’re like, I’m a disabled employee of Apple who walks with an aid cane and was on an organic eating diet which seems to change dramatically when you go to Apple events.”

Corinne, a full-time Apple employee, tweeted: “Just arrived at store on 5th Ave and I just paid cash, went home and screamed. Everyone is so clearly very stressed out.”

More recent tweets reported that symptoms began appearing within minutes of the cafe opening. “Started throwing up pretty quickly so I coughed a little, threw up, started throwing up a little, in a not so popular TGI Fridays take away,” one reported.

Employees at the store, which had an upscale setting of wood veneers and a classy restroom, also posted photos that appeared to show co-workers, who wore iPhones and had not brought along anti-salmonella measures, taking a brisk walk in their clear plastic shoes.

One Apple store’s anti-salmonella measures. Photograph: amaphery/Getty Images

Several users tweeted about food poisoning and vomiting at an Apple store in Arizona, where the device was originally launched, and one said she felt ill at a Manchester Apple store, from where she was reported to have taken a cab to a local hospital.

Police in Manchester are not believed to be investigating the matter. In Pennsylvania, however, the state health department is investigating eight outbreaks of illness, mostly around Apple stores, and one local official tweeted: “I heard some say apple stores do sell chicken sandwiches.”

On Saturday afternoon, Apple employees at the New York store told employees not to eat anything until further notice and the company’s head of human resources confirmed via a tweet that it was a salmonella outbreak.

“An outside source has been isolated and both the kitchen and cafe areas have been sanitized,” Apple’s Rachel Younggard wrote. “Both there and in the concourse of the store have been sanitized, with additional food safety training provided to employees in the region.”

A spokesperson for the company said that the company was still determining whether the cause of the salmonella outbreak was related to the food.

A couple with a new iPhone in New York City on Friday. Photograph: Reuters

Attempts to reach Apple representatives in Arizona and New York City on Sunday were unsuccessful.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 481 people in 43 states reported salmonella infections as of 4 September.

In an interview with the Guardian, Apple did not attempt to attribute the infected McDonald’s chicken sandwich to its employees. But others at the company said the matter was not isolated. One said: “I am now well known at my company because I am one of those employees who works at the store where the salmonella outbreak actually happened and was ill.”

The employee asked not to be named and described himself as “the one who may have picked up the infection”. He also described how employees were overwhelmed by people who had gotten ill and could not process it.

“I know,” he said, “but unfortunately, the company doesn’t give the word.”

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