The phone at the new public health lab in Stillwater rang and rang, and nobody answered.

If someone had, they’d have known that a batch of salmonella samples sent from Oklahoma to public health labs in Texas and Minnesota for testing had been mistakenly counted among sick residents in those states, not accurately as Oklahomans who had become ill after eating red onions.

It would be days before the discrepancy was discovered and fixed. The delay hampered efforts by Oklahoma epidemiologists to pinpoint the source of the contamination. The salmonella outbreak sickened at least 114 Oklahomans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than a year after Oklahoma officials announced the privatization and relocation of the state’s public health lab from Oklahoma City to Stillwater, the transition has been anything but smooth. For this account, Oklahoma Watch interviewed former lab and health department employees and reviewed documents obtained under the Open Records Act.

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