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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

Don’t forget Utah and E. coli contaminated lettuce

With E. coli contaminating lettuce at Taco Bell and Taco John’s sickening 150 in the last few weeks and Dole spinach poisoning over 200 with 4 deaths in September, one would tend to forget the Wendy’s E. coli outbreak in June.  Here is the story:

In early August 2006, public health officials in Weber County, Utah, became aware of several people who attended a teachers’ conference luncheon that had contracted E. coli O121:H19. On August 2, 2006, the Weber-Morgan Health Department (WMHD) issued a News Release indicating that three people had contracted E. coli O121:H19, and that two of the individuals had developed HUS.  WMHD stated that the evidence indicated that all three people contracted E. coli from the same source sometime during June 27-30 at a restaurant in the Ogden, Utah area. By August 7, WMHD officials had revised the number of outbreak victims to four, including three who had developed HUS.

WMHD further concluded that the source of the contamination was iceberg lettuce prepared at the Wendy’s Restaurant at 2500 North 400 East in North Ogden, Utah. One of the patients with confirmed HUS who had not attended the teacher’s conference had eaten cheeseburgers with iceberg lettuce at the Wendy’s Restaurant during the outbreak period. The second confirmed HUS case was an attendee of the teachers’ conference, and a third case of HUS was determined to be secondary transmission from an infected person at the conference.  Eventually, WMHD determined that at least 69 people had become ill in the outbreak. Of the sixty-nine people who reportedly became ill, four remained hospitalized and were in serious condition.

WMHD had made an inspection of the Ogden Wendy’s on June 27, 2006, before WMHD learned of the outbreak. The investigation revealed Wendy’s had one critical violation. It was found that the chemical sanitizers applied to food-contact surfaces did not meet the requirements specified in 21 CFR 178.0110. Wendy’s was using Spic and Span as the sanitizer.

Investigators conducted a study of the persons who had attended the teachers’ conference to determine the extent of illness among the attendees. WMHD contacted and interviewed 225 individuals who had attended the conference and consumed food from Wendy’s. Of this number, 69 (31%) became ill. WMHD determined that the likely exposure period was between June 27 and 30. Onset of illness occurred between June 27 and July 26, with the majority of the cases occurring between July 4 and July 12.  Part of the WMHD investigation included a thorough inspection of three establishments that catered to the teachers’ conference. The only common food item shared by those who became ill from E. coli was iceberg lettuce from the North Ogden Wendy’s restaurant.

Three of the HUS patients with E. coli O121:H19 were laboratory confirmed by stool culture. DNA subtyping by Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE) showed that one of the individuals that was not associated with the conference, but who had consumed cheeseburgers from Wendy’s during the outbreak period, was an identical genetic match to one of the previous confirmed E. coli cases associated with Wendy’s.