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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Is Canada’s E. coli O121 Flour Outbreak tied to U.S E. coli O121 Outbreak in 2016?

big-map-9-28-2016Last fall the CDC determined that the E. coli O121 and E. coli O26 outbreak linked to General Mills Flour was over.  As you might recall, sixty-three people infected with the outbreak strains of STEC O121 or STEC O26 were reported from 24 states. Illnesses started on dates ranging from December 21, 2015 to September 5, 2016. Ill people range in age from 1 year to 95, with a median age of 18. Seventy-six percent of ill people were female. Seventeen ill people were hospitalized. One person developed hemolytic uremic syndrome and no deaths were reported.

Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback evidence indicated that flour produced at a General Mills facility in Kansas City, Missouri was the likely source of this outbreak.  In interviews, ill people answered questions about the foods they ate and other exposures in the week before they became ill. Twenty-eight (76%) of 37 people reported that they or someone in their household used flour in the week before they became ill. Nineteen (50%) of 38 people reported eating or tasting raw homemade dough or batter. Twenty-one (57%) of 37 people reported using Gold Medal brand flour. Three ill people, all children, reported eating or playing with raw dough at restaurants. Results from this investigation indicated an association between getting sick with STEC and someone in the household using Gold Medal brand flour.

Federal, state, and local regulatory officials performed traceback investigations using package information collected from ill people’s homes and records collected from restaurants where ill people were exposed to raw dough. These initial investigations indicated that the flour used by ill people or used in the restaurants was produced during the same week in November 2015 at the General Mills facility in Kansas City, Missouri, where Gold Medal brand flour is produced.

On May 31, 2016, General Mills recalled several sizes and varieties of Gold Medal Flour, Gold Medal Wondra Flour, and Signature Kitchens Flour due to possible E. coli contamination. The recalled flours were produced in the Kansas City facility and sold nationwide.

In June 2016, laboratory testing by FDA isolated STEC O121 in open samples of General Mills flour collected from the homes of ill people in Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma.  E. coli O26 isolated from the flour sample was closely related genetically to isolates from an ill person in the PulseNet database. As a result of these findings, General Mills expanded its recall on July 1, 2016 and again on July 25, 2016 to include more production dates.