January 2013

San Jose Valley Veal, a Santa Clara, Calif. establishment, is recalling approximately 1,260 pounds of veal trimmings that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

The following products are subject to recall:

• 60-pound, cardboard box cases of “SAN JOSE VALLEY VEAL AND BEEF INC.” boneless veal trimmings.

Boxes may contain the case codes: “L-1 11112,” “L-1 11212,” “L-1 11512,” “L-1 11612,” “L-1 11712,” “L-1 11812″ or “L-1 11912″ and also bear the establishment number “EST. 2828″ inside the USDA mark of inspection.

The products subject to recall were produced between Nov. 1 and Nov. 9, 2012 then were transported to a federal facility for further distribution. FSIS and the establishment are concerned that some product may be frozen and in customers’ freezers.

The problem was discovered when a customer tested a shipment of veal and reported non-negative results. The customer held the shipment pending laboratory results, but other product from the producer’s same lot had shipped into commerce.

I had the opportunity to meet a number of the best and the brightest in the produce industry today, and learned much about what they are now doing to make produce safer.  I am hopeful for consumers and the growers, shippers and retailers.  Not surprisingly, cantaloupe came up more that a few times due to my ongoing litigation surrounding the 2011 Jensen Farms Listeria outbreak and the 2012 Chamberlain Farm Salmonella outbreak.  Not that cantaloupe did not already have a sorted history with pathogens.

I still shied away from them on the breakfast buffet.

Like most things with human behavior, I am always a bit stunned how long it takes us to get the hint that there is a problem.

No.

Year

State(s)

Confirmed

Illnesses

Pathogen

Description

1.

1985

Wisconsin

16

Campylobacter

Melon or cantaloupe

2.

1990

30 states

245

Salmonella

Cut cantaloupe at salad bars

3.

1991

International, including U.S.

400

Salmonella

Mexican cantaloupe

4.

1997

California

24

Salmonella

Mexican cantaloupe

5.

1998

Ontario, Canada

22

Salmonella

Cantaloupe

6.

1999

Iowa

61

Norovirus

Restaurant, cantaloupe

7.

2000

California, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, New Mexico, Nevada

47

Salmonella

Mexican cantaloupe

8.

2001

Multi-state and International

50

Salmonella

Viva Brand cantaloupe

9.

2002

California, Minnesota, Oregon, Arkansas, Vermont, Nevada, Texas

58

Salmonella

Susie Brand cantaloupe

10.

2003

New York, Ohio, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Missouri

58

Salmonella

Day care center and private homes, cantaloupe

11.

2006

Multi-State and International

41

Salmonella

Cantaloupe cut at processing facility in Canada

12.

2007

California

11

Salmonella

Private home cantaloupe

13.

2008

Multi-State

53

Salmonella

Agropecuraria Mobtelibano cantaloupe, from Honduras

14.

2008

California

23

Norovirus

Restaurant, melon and cantaloupe

15.

2011

Multi-State

20

Salmonella

Del Monte cantaloupe

16.

2011

Multi-State

147

Listeria

Jensen Farms cantaloupe

17.

2012

Multi-State

261

Salmonella

Chamberlain Farms cantaloupe

Strike 1.

On September 7, 2005, the Albany County Health Department (ACHD) was notified that a child was hospitalized with a diagnosis of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).  Preliminary laboratory testing of the child’s stool had been conducted at St. Peter’s Hospital, and tests were originally negative for the presence of E. coli O157:H7.  ACHD arranged for the stool specimen to be sent to the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) Wadsworth Center for further testing.

On September 14, ACHD interviewed the child’s parents, and learned that on August 26 the child had consumed a Topps brand quarter pound beef patty that had been purchased at a Price Chopper store.  Most of the patties that came in the package of twelve frozen hamburgers had been eaten.  Two uncooked patties, however, were still in the parents’ freezer.

On September 15, the child’s stool sample results came back positive for the presence of E. coli O157:H7, and NYSDOH asked to test the leftover meat for the presence of E. coli O157:H7.    Six days later, on September 21, the NYSDOH Wadsworth Center reported that E. coli O157:H7 had been cultured in the beef patties collected from the parents’ freezer.

Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) analysis of the meat isolate and the child’s isolate showed the two were indistinguishable, confirming that the meat was the source of the child’s infection with E. coli O157:H7.  Those patties came from Topps Meat Company (“Topps”).

Strike 2 – You’re Out!

Two years later, on August 31, 2007 an online consumer complaint was filed with the USDA/FSIS after a Florida teenager fell ill after consuming a hamburger patty produced by Topps on July 12, 2007.  The 17 year old tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 on September 4, 2007.  This was followed by similar reports of illnesses connected with Topps product in New York State and elsewhere in the following days.  On or before September 8, 2007 the USDA had confirmed a sample from a Topps hamburger had tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 from the Florida teenager’s home freezer, yet no recall was begun.  Additional illnesses continued to be reported.

Topps and the USDA/FSIS took no action to remove its products from the shelves until September 25, 2007.   On that date, the USDA announced that Topps was recalling 332,000 pounds of ground beef due to contamination with E. coli O157:H7.  The initial recall encompassed only products produced on June 22, July 12, and July 23, 2007.   The New York Department of Health subsequently reported that an intact sample with a production date of June 21, 2007 had also tested positive for E. coli O157:H7.  At the same time, a USDA/FSIS conducted an inspection of Topps’ plant in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

The FSIS inspection of Topps’ plant and procedures at its Elizabeth, New Jersey facility on September 26, 2007 revealed alarming deficiencies in the firm’s safety programs.  The problems began with the raw materials.  Topps received boxed sub-primal products, which did not carry Certificates of Analysis (COA).[1]  Topps initially used these boxed sub-primal cuts only for non-ground product.   But, Topps then mixed the trim, the left-overs after butchering, with the raw materials being used for its ground beef products.  The trim was placed into the grinding operation without testing for E. coli O157:H7.  See Comprehensive Assessment of the Execution and Design of an Establishment’s Food Safety Systems.  This practice was in violation of federal regulations.  See 9 CFR 417.5 (a) 1.  The FSIS then concluded that this failure to ensure that product intended for grinding was free of E. coli O157:H7 called into question the “adequacy of the design and execution of your prerequisite program and HACCP [Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point] program.”  See Notice of Suspension.

FSIS inspectors also found various sanitation deficiencies at the facility.  During the pre-operational inspection FSIS personnel noted that “the patty making machine had gouges, cracks, and tears in the neoprene transfer belt used to move raw patties to packaging.”  The inspectors also noted a history of prior non-conformance records relating directly to raw product residue on equipment surfaces.  The FSIS concluded:

The recurring deficiencies of unsanitary equipment documented by USDA…provide evidence that [Topps] failed to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the sanitation SOPs [standard operating procedures].”

Part of the FSIS inspection included a reassessment of Topps’ HACCP plan, the plan ostensibly in place to ensure the safety of Topps’ ground beef.  FSIS reviewers found the HACCP plan severely lacking.  As an initial matter, the HACCP plan only addressed E. coli O157:H7 in one instance, identifying it simply as “a hazard not likely to occur.”   The remainder of the plan failed to address E. coli O157:H7 specifically at any other point.  FSIS also criticized Topps for failing to account for the increased prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 during the summer months, in violation of rules incorporated in 67 FR 62329.  Topps was also noted to lack documentation supporting either its sanitation or temperature control technology in violation of 9 CFR 417.5(a)(1) and 9 CFR 417.2(a)(1).  FSIS ultimately concluded that Topps had:

demonstrated a failure to adequately reassess your HACCP plan based on scientific data related to the prevalence of  E. coli O157:H7 in raw beef products and failure to support decisions that controls are in place for controlling  E. coli O157:H7 in your production process.

Not surprisingly, FSIS suspended Topps’ operations “in the interest of protecting the public’s health.”

As a result, on September 29, 2007, Topps finally expanded its recall to include a total of approximately 21.7 million pounds of frozen ground beef due to contamination with E. coli O157:H7.  The recall included all produces with un-expired sell by dates.  Ultimately, the Topps’ ground beef was linked to at least 25 E. coli O157:H7 infections in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  See CDC Outbreak Investigation File.

And, shortly after that Topps, a company in business for some 75 years, closed its doors for good.

This is another it what will be a long – too long – series of outbreak investigations where we have represented consumers in what I hope will be a cautionary tale, and a learning experience, for manufacturers of food.


[1] A COA indicates that a particular lot has been tested and found negative for E. coli O157:H7.  Products that do not carry COA’s are not subject to any rigorous testing for the presence of E. coli O157:H7 because they are not intended for use in a grinding operation.

This is another it what will be a long – too long – series of outbreak investigations where we have represented consumers in what I hope will be a cautionary tale, and a learning experience, for manufacturers of food.

On July 7, 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”)[1] learned that two siblings in Texas were critically ill with botulism and that their illnesses were likely acquired by eating contaminated food.  The two children were admitted to pediatric intensive care, and there required mechanical ventilation.  The CDC released doses of botulinum antitoxin,[2] which was administered to the children the next morning.

Four days later on July 11, public health officials in Indiana reported to the CDC that a married couple in Indiana was suspected of having foodborne botulism.  Serum samples were collected from each of them on July 10 and then sent to the Botulism Reference Laboratory at the CDC.  On July 16, one day after the lab received the serum samples, botulinum toxin type A was detected by mouse bioassay in the man’s serum sample.  Botulinum toxin was also detected by mouse bioassay in serum submitted by the wife, but the sample volume was insufficient to determine the toxin type.  Investigations conducted by state and local health departments in both Texas and Indiana revealed that all four patients had eaten types of Castleberry’s hot dog chili before symptom onset.

Texas investigators found an unopened can of Castleberry’s Austex Hot dog Chili Sauce Original date stamped with a manufacture date and time of May 7 at 9:41 p.m. at the children’s home and tested it for botulism.  The Texas Department of Health Services laboratory tested an aliquot from this can using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for botulinum toxin and did not detect the toxin.

The Indiana couple had an unlabeled, sealed plastic bag of leftover chili mixture in their refrigerator that local health officials collected and sent to the CDC for C. botulinum toxin testing.  On July 16 the CDC detected botulinum toxin type A by mouse bioassay in the chili mixture.  Empty, well-rinsed cans of Castleberry’s Hot Dog Chili Sauce Original and chili made by another company were found in the couple’s recycling bin. CDC re-rinsed the two cans and tested the rinse water for botulinum toxin by mouse bioassay; both were negative.  The label on the can of Castleberry’s Hot Dog Chili Sauce Original indicated a production-date of May 8, and a time of 2:23 AM—less than five hours after the production-time indicated on the can collected from the Texas home.

On July 17, CDC staff provided information regarding the production-dates and times to the FDA.  The evidence strongly suggested that brands of Castleberry’s hot dog chili sauce were the common source of the four ill persons with botulism.  On July 18, FDA issued a consumer advisory.  On that same day, after being informed about the outbreak, and findings from the FDA investigation of the canning facility, Castleberry’s Food Company issued a voluntary recall that included a limited number of production dates of Castleberry’s Hot Dog Chili Sauce Original, Castleberry’s Austex Hot Dog Chili Sauce Original, and Kroger Hot Dog Chili Sauce. The recall was expanded on July 21 to include all production dates for 91 types of canned chili sauce, chili, other meat products, chicken products, and dog food that were manufactured in the same set of cookers, or “retorts” as the hot dog chili sauce at the Castleberry’s facility in Augusta, Georgia.

By August 24, eight cases of botulism had been reported to the CDC.  In addition to the Indiana couple, the mother of the children in Texas had developed symptoms of botulism, which brought the total number of Castleberry-associated cases in Texas to three.  There were also three unrelated residents of Ohio who had developed botulism consuming Castleberry’s hot dog chili sauce in the week before symptom onsets.  Botulinum toxin was identified in leftover chili sauce collected from the refrigerator belonging to one of the Ohio cases.

The Castleberry’s manufacturing facility in Georgia produces products regulated both by the FDA and USDA-FSIS.  Initial reports of illnesses were linked to meatless hot dog chili sauce and thus, fell under the jurisdiction of the FDA.  The agency’s Atlanta District Office took the lead in the investigation of facilities.

The inspection started on the evening of July 17.  FDA investigators requested company maintenance records, which were not immediately available because they were stored on a laptop of a vacationing employee.  Finally, three days later, under threat of severe penalty, the company produced some of the requested records.  Included in records provided to federal investigators was a 42-page report written by a consultant hired by Castleberry’s to investigate swollen cans of stew, chili, and hash produced in April and May 2007.  The consultant had attributed spoilage to post-process handling operations in one of the plant’s cooking equipment.  Reports by two other company-hired consultants would also implicate post processing as the reason for swollen cans.  Unfortunately, Castleberry’s had not investigated the issues further.

On July 18 and 19, a team of federal investigators was sent to the firm’s warehouse.  Samples of Castleberry’s Austex and Castleberry’s brand Hot Dog Chili Sauce with the “best by May 7, 2009” and “best by May 8, 2009” lot codes were collected and sent to FDA laboratories for testing.[3]  FDA testing of sample 428113, consisting of 17 swollen cans, found C. Botulinum toxin in 16 of the cans.  This sample included the same time-stamp and lot code from the May 8, 2007 production as the can found in the Indiana home. FDA testing of sample 420352, consisting of six swollen cans, found C. Botulinum in four cans.  FDA sample 420353 included one swollen can, and its contents tested positive for C. Botulinum toxin.

Federal investigators conducted extensive tests on Castleberry equipment.  The findings are presented in an FDA report issued on August 10, 2007, FDA Inspectional Observations dated 08/10/2007, (Summary pages only).  Noted observations include:

  • The system, equipment, and procedures used for thermal processing of foods in hermetically sealed containers were not operated and administered in a manner that ensures commercial sterility is achieved.
  • Each retort did not have an accurate temperature records device.
  • Failure to supply a suitable water valve used for water cooling to prevent leakage of water into the retort during processing.
  • The condensate bleeder was not checked with sufficient frequency to ensure removal of condensate or equipped with an automatic alarm system for the continuous monitoring of condensate bleeder functioning.
  • Required information was not entered on designated forms at the time the observation was made by the retort or processing system operator or designated person.
  • Failure to maintain fixtures in repair sufficient to prevent food from becoming adulterated.
  • Failure to properly adjust the temperature-recording device.  The temperature recorded on the temperature-recording device chart was higher than the mercury-in-glass thermometer during processing.

The report ultimately placed blame on Castleberry management saying there was no commitment from employees in making the products and there was not adequate management oversight.  As one Castleberry employee noted:  “Two years ago the [implicated reports] were maintained very well, but they are maintained poorly now.”  The FDA plainly agreed, citing Castleberry’s for the “failure to maintain fixtures in repair sufficient to prevent food from becoming adulterated.”

Castleberry made substantial fixes at its plant and then reopened in the fall of 2007.  The company re-branded its line to American Originals, and redesigned product labels. But in March, 2008, the plant was forced to close again after a February 27 joint-inspection by the FDA and USDA revealed deviations in some equipment operations on the processing line.  The line was not related to deficiencies noted in the summer of 2007 but because under-processing caused the botulism outbreak, the plant’s operating permit was suspended.


[1]           The information about the outbreak comes primarily from the CDC-published report issued July 30, 2007. See MMWR; supra note 1, at 1-2.  The information specific to the Castleberry’s manufacturing facility is taken from the FDA Establishment Inspection Report, FEI No. 1010894.

[2]           The CDC is the only source of the therapeutic antitoxin, which is stocked in locations around the country for rapid release. See Sobel; supra note 2, at 1607.

[3]           This was despite Castleberry’s questionable efforts to apparently destroy evidence.  As noted in the FDA Inspection Report, “Castleberry’s personnel had sorted through lots and destroyed most of the swollen cans prior to our visit.”  Although the FDA has not imposed any specific penalty for this conduct yet, it is safe to assume that the conduct would be scrutinized by a court as potential spoliation.

We were retained today by two sisters who each spent a week in the hospital after suffering Salmonella Typhimurium infections after eating raw ground beef kibbeh (that they thought was lamb) at a Sterling Heights, Michigan restaurant.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a total of 16 individuals infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium have been reported from 5 states. The number of ill people identified in each state with the outbreak strain is as follows: Arizona (1), Illinois (2), Iowa (1), Michigan (9), and Wisconsin (3).

Epidemiologic and traceback investigations conducted by officials in local, state, and federal public health, agriculture, and regulatory agencies indicate that ground beef produced by Jouni Meats, Inc. and Gab Halal Foods are likely sources of this outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium infections.  Initial investigations focused on six ill persons in Michigan and one ill person in Arizona who reported eating at the same restaurant before their illness began. All seven of these ill persons reported eating raw ground beef kibbeh (a dish typically made of finely ground red meat, usually beef, minced onions, and bulghur wheat) at this restaurant before becoming ill.

Jouni Meats, Inc., a Sterling Heights, Mich. retail store, is recalling approximately 500 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with a strain of Salmonella Typhimurium, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced last week.  The products subject to recall are: Various size packages of ground beef.  These products were produced between Dec. 4, 2012, and Dec. 9, 2012, and distributed to a restaurant in Macomb County, Michigan, and sold directly to consumers at Jouni Meats, Inc. These products were sold without a label.

Gab Halal Foods, a Troy, Mich. retail store, is recalling approximately 550 pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with a strain of Salmonella Typhimurium, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) also announced last week.  The products subject to recall are: Various size bags of ground beef, wrapped in clear plastic.  These products were produced between Dec. 4, 2012, and Dec. 10, 2012, and distributed to a restaurant in Macomb County, Michigan, and sold directly to consumers at Gab Halal Foods. These products were sold without a label.

In 2009 714 persons were infected and nine died from Salmonella Typhimurium linked to the Peanut Corporation of America in Blakely, Georgia.  According to the last update by the CDC, the number of ill persons identified in each state was as follows: Alabama (2), Arizona (14), Arkansas (6), California (81), Colorado (18), Connecticut (11), Florida (1), Georgia (6), Hawaii (6), Idaho (17), Illinois (12), Indiana (11), Iowa (3), Kansas (2), Kentucky (3), Louisiana (1), Maine (5), Maryland (11), Massachusetts (49), Michigan (38), Minnesota (44), Missouri (15), Mississippi (7), Montana (2), Nebraska (1), New Hampshire (14), New Jersey (24), New York (34), Nevada (7), North Carolina (6), North Dakota (17), Ohio (102), Oklahoma (4), Oregon (15), Pennsylvania (19), Rhode Island (5), South Dakota (4), Tennessee (14), Texas (10), Utah (8), Vermont (4), Virginia (24), Washington (25), West Virginia (2), Wisconsin (5), and Wyoming (2). Additionally, one ill person was reported from Canada.  Patients ranged in age from <1 to 98 years. The median age of patients was 16 years, which meant that half of ill persons were younger than 16 years. 21% were age <5 years, 17% were >59 years. 48% of patients were female. Among persons with available information, 24% reported being hospitalized. Infection contributed to nine deaths: Idaho (1), Minnesota (3), North Carolina (1), Ohio (2), and Virginia (2).

The outbreak triggered one of the most extensive food recall ever in U.S. history.  As of Spring 2009, the recall involved at nearly 400 companies and over 4,000 different products manufactured using PCA ingredients.The recall included everything produced at the Blakely plant since January 1, 2007.  The recalled products made by PCA, such as peanut butter and peanut paste, were common ingredients in cookies, crackers, cereal, candy, ice cream, pet treats, and other foods.  Products supplied for some school lunches were pulled and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) even recalled emergency meals.  Food banks nationwide had to discard thousands of pounds.

The inspection by the FDA of the Blakely plant – and our own Court ordered inspection – revealed more than just serious flaws in food safety.   Here are just a four of the ten Observations from the Amended FDA’s 483 Inspection Report:

Observation 1 – PCA shipped peanut products knowingly tainted by Salmonella on numerous occasions.

Observation 2 – PCA continued to produce peanut paste from September 2008 to January 2009 on an unclean production line that has tested positive for Salmonella Typhimurium in September 2008

Observation 3 – PCA had inadequate records to show that it roasted peanuts – a step to reduce the risk of microbial contamination – at a sufficient temperature.

Observation 4 – PCA stored finished product in areas in the facility that tested positive for numerous types of Salmonella.

Here is the First FDA 483.

And, what was Stewart Parnell’s response to his employees on January 12, 2009, after PCA was under investigation? Here it is:

“No salmonella has been found anywhere in our products or in our plant,…”

Yes, we bankrupted PCA, but if what happened to over 700 families and hundreds of businesses – costing hundreds of millions of dollars – never sees the inside of a criminal court, we should simply never prosecute any corporation, or anyone, that poisons consumers.

The photos (click on image to enlarge) above were taken by me on a site visit to the PCA plant.  Mice were everywhere, as was hazard tape put up by FDA and FBI investigators.  The photo of the letter from Larry King, I found in the PCA fax machine.

The facts of this most unfortunate incident were well covered in the report issued by the Macomb County Health Department on May 1, 2002.  Of note, the illnesses were “associated with the consumption of cannolis and cassata cake from Black Forest Cakes and Pastries.”

Laboratory investigation showed that 46 stool cultures tested positive for Salmonella enteritidis, as did 4 leftover food samples. Six culture isolates (4 stool specimens and 2 food samples) were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for phange typing. All 6 isolates were identified as Salmonella enteritidis phange type 8. This was significant because it convincingly shows that the source of the illnesses was the bakery products and that the illness has a common source.

According to the report, during the early spring of this year “an outbreak of Salmonella enteritidis infections resulted in 196 reported ill persons, 24 of which required hospitalization.”

The report concluded that Black Forest Cakes and Pastries were the source of the Salmonella enteritidis outbreak. Specifically, the report stated that the epidemiologic analysis established a statistically significant association between illness and the consumption of cannolis, cassata cake or both. How the bacteria were introduced into the bakery could not be determined. “Once introduced, improper sanitation, food storage and preparation practices were the most likely causes for the dissemination of the bacteria in the facility and the subsequent outbreak of illnesses.”

The “Environmental Assessment” published by the Michigan Department of Agriculture documented serious concerns about Black Forest’s sanitation practices. In part, it was found that these “practices were insufficient to prevent cross contamination once the Salmonella enteritidis was introduced into the facility.  Specific practices that could have perpetuated cross contamination included:

  • Lack of sanitizing of equipment, utensils, and food contact surfaces,
  • Drying surfaces and utensils with shared towels, and inadequate emphasis on frequent and effective hand washing.
  • The assessment also found fault in Black Forest’s ability to properly cool the cannoli filling as a way to reduce bacterial growth.

It has been my experience in outbreak litigation that juries invariably believe the unbiased reports of the state health investigators. Here the report painted a bleak picture of Black Forest’s practices as being the cause of so many unnecessary illnesses.

One interesting note, I was taking the deposition of the owner of the bakery on behalf of the several dozen people I represented and he brought with him about a dozen cannolis for the court reporter and the several other lawyers in attendance.  The owner and I were the only ones who ate one each.  The others went untouched – even by the baker’s lawyer.

The posts I recently did on Jack in the Box and Odwalla prompted some readers to ask what other stories I had.  Unfortunately, I have a very large plate full.  Perhaps by retelling some of these stories others will be prompted to pay just a bit(e) more attention to food safety.

On June 30, 2003, Lake County Health Department (LCHD) received a report from Lake Forest Hospital indicating that a patient was ill with a Salmonella infection. The LCHD immediately contacted the patient and interviewed him, using a questionnaire that is standard for the epidemiological investigation of foodborne illness outbreaks. One of the first things learned by the interviewer was that the patient had recently eaten at the Chili’s Grill & Bar in Vernon Hills, Illinois.

About an hour after receiving this first report, a second person contacted LCHD to report that a family member had become ill after eating at Chili’s in Vernon Hills. This prompted the LCHD to send investigators to the restaurant to inspect it. What they found was disturbing. The restaurant’s dishwashing machine was broken and corroded; the tube that fed chlorine into the machine was plugged, preventing proper sanitization of dishes. Employees told the investigators that the machine had not worked properly for at least a week. In fact, according to the LCHD Final Report, “[e]mployees had wrapped plastic bags around the line to stop the chlorine from spraying into the air.” Despite the obvious broken condition of the dishwasher, the restaurant management still had done nothing to get the machine “repaired” that is, until caught by the health department.

During their inspection, the investigators also found food not stored at proper temperatures in the cooler. And following questioning of the on-duty manager, investigators learned that three employees, plus another manager, had called in sick that day with flu symptoms.

The next day, LCHD received two new reports of individuals with Salmonella infections who had eaten at Chili’s on June 26, while Chili’s management reported six more ill employees. With evidence of the outbreak-source growing increasingly clear, investigators returned to the restaurant to instruct employees on hand-washing procedures, require the use of nailbrushes, and to issue a glove-use order. This meant that no further bare-hand contact of food was to be allowed at the restaurant. The investigators also collected stool samples from the employees there in addition to interviewing each one of them regarding gastrointestinal symptoms. As a result of these interviews, investigators discovered thirteen employees who had been allowed to work despite suffering from diarrhea and other symptoms.

Because of the large number of infected employees identified, the LCHD ordered the restaurant to close. A statement issued by LCHD Executive Director Dale Gallassie announced that:

Due to the large number of ill employees, and the high potential for spread of this illness, Chili’s was required to cease all operation or face suspension or revocation of its food service permit, at which time Chili’s management made the decision to voluntarily close the establishment.

Continue Reading A Salmonella Outbreak to Remember: 2003 Vernon Hills Chili’s

Whole Foods Market is recalling one lot code of Whole Catch Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon (4 oz), cold smoked and sliced, sold in stores in 12 states, because it may contain Listeria Monocytogenes, an organism which can cause a sometimes fatal infection in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer short term symptoms, such as high fever, severe headaches, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The recalled items were sold in stores in Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Utah.

The recalled salmon is sold in black-and-gold, flat, rectangular vacuum-sealed packages; the lot code being recalled is 7425A2298B. The lot code is ink-jet printed on the back of the package, on the upper left side. The UPC code is 0 99482 40880 0.

This is another of many recalls in the last few months:

Delfish cold smoked salmon recalled in the CA, NC, VA, OH, MA, IL, FL, GA, TX, DE, NJ, NY, PA, WA and Puerto Rico.

Ocean Beauty Smoked Salmon recalled in WA, OR, CA, AZ, TX, CO, MA, NH, CT, RI, NJ, and NY.

Multiexport Foods, Inc., Salmon recalled nationwide.

The CDC reported yesterday in its aptly named, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, on the Surveillance for Foodborne Disease Outbreaks — United States, 2009–2010.  Here is the overview:

Outbreaks

  • During 2009–2010, a total of 1,527 foodborne disease outbreaks (675 in 2009 and 852 in 2010) were reported, resulting in 29,444 cases of illness, 1,184 hospitalizations, and 23 deaths.
  • Among the 790 outbreaks with a single laboratory-confirmed etiologic agent, norovirus was the most commonly reported, accounting for 42% of outbreaks.
  • Salmonella was second, accounting for 30% of outbreaks. Among the 225 confirmed Salmonella outbreaks with a serotype reported, Enteritidis was the most common serotype with 76 outbreaks (34%).
  • Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) caused 58 confirmed, single-etiology outbreaks, of which 53 were caused by serogroup O157.
  • Among the 299 outbreaks attributed to a food composed of ingredients from one of 17 predefined, mutually exclusive food commodities, those most often implicated were beef (13%), dairy (12%), fish (12%), and poultry (11%).
  • The commodities in the 299 outbreaks associated with the most illnesses were eggs (27% of illnesses), beef (11%), and poultry (10%).

Illnesses

  • Of the 29,444 outbreak-related illnesses, 1,184 (4%) resulted in hospitalization. Salmonella caused the most outbreak-related hospitalizations with 583 (49%), followed by STEC with 190 (16%) and norovirus with 109 (9%). Outbreaks caused by Listeria resulted in the highest proportion of persons hospitalized (82%), followed by Clostridium botulinum (67%), and paralytic shellfish poisoning outbreaks (67%). Among the 23 deaths, 22 were attributed to bacterial etiologies (nine to Listeria monocytogenes, five Salmonella, four STEC O157, three Clostridium perfringens, and one Shigella), and one to norovirus.

Recalls

  • Forty-three outbreaks resulted in product recalls. The recalled foods were ground beef (eight outbreaks), sprouts (seven), cheese and cheese-containing products (six), oysters (five), raw milk (three), eggs (three), and salami (ground pepper), bison, sirloin steak, unpasteurized apple cider, cookie dough, frozen mamey fruit, hazelnuts, Romaine lettuce, ground turkey burger, tuna steak, and a frozen entrée (one each).

Read the full report.  And, thanks to the good work of the following:

L. Hannah Gould, PhD, Elisabeth A. Mungai, MS, MPH, Shacara D. Johnson, MSPH, LaTonia C. Richardson, MS, Ian T. Williams, PhD, Patricia M. Griffin, MD, Dana J. Cole, DVM, PhD, Div of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases; Aron J. Hall, DVM, Div of Viral Diseases, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC.