My guess is that Cinco de Mayo is Lou Dobbs favorite holiday.  I know, he seems to make such a big deal about those damn "illegal immigrants," but he knows that you can count on one hand how many foodborne illness outbreaks have been caused by imported Mexican, or for that matter any imported foreign food product.  The bottom line is that US Corporations do a wonderful job of poisoning our own citizens. 

However, in the flavor of the day, here is a list of foodborne illness outbreaks linked to Mexican food – most which was prepared and served in the USA.

Multistate Outbreak of E. coli O157 Infections linked to Taco Bell – Eastcoast

This outbreak was clearly linked to Taco Bell restaurants in the northeastern United States. As of 12 PM (ET) December 14, 2006, Thursday, 71 persons with illness associated with the Taco Bell restaurant outbreak have been reported to CDC from 5 states: New Jersey (33), New York (22), Pennsylvania (13), Delaware (2), and South Carolina (1). States with Taco Bell restaurants where persons confirmed to have the outbreak strain have eaten are New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. (The patient from South Carolina ate at a Taco Bell restaurant in Pennsylvania). Other cases of illness are under investigation by state public health officials. Among these 71 ill persons, 53 (75%) were hospitalized and 8 (11%) developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). Illness onset dates have ranged from November 20 to December 6.  California Lettuce.

Habaneros E. coli Outbreak – Missouri

In late August of 2003, staff in the Communicable Disease (CD) section at the St. Clair County Health Department (SCCHD) conducted a foodborne outbreak investigation and found that of 64 persons, including seven employees, who had eaten at Habaneros between August 15, 2003 and September 5, 2003, thirty (47%) reported having diarrheal symptoms; ten sought medical care.  An extensive food consumption history was obtained from each person interviewed, but no specific food-item was statistically associated with illness.  Five individuals were laboratory-confirmed with E. coli O157:H7. All five ate at Habaneros on either August 23 or August 24.   Pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) analysis of the five isolates obtained from culture-confirmed patients revealed that all five had an indistinguishable PFGE pattern, indicating that they were infected with the same strain of E. coli O157:H7.  On September 18, IDPH received a report that E. coli O157:H7 had been cultured from a sample of pico de gallo obtained from Habaneros.

Taco John’s E. coli Outbreak – Iowa and Minnesota

In December 2006, Iowa and Minnesota health officials investigated an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among patrons at Taco John’s restaurants in Ceder Falls, Iowa, and Albert Lea and Austin, Minnesota.  As of December 13, 2006, the Iowa Department of Health had confirmed that at least 50 Iowans had become ill with E. coli infections after eating at Taco John’s, and the Minnesota Department of Health had confirmed that at least 27 Minnesotans were part of the outbreak.  Lettuce was grown in California

Chi-Chi’s Hepatitis A Outbreak – Pennsylvania

In late October of 2003, Pennsylvania health officials learned of a potential hepatitis A outbreak from emergency room doctors treating patients in Beaver County.  The Beaver County Health Department (BCHD) and Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDOH) began investigating the apparent outbreak, and learned through interviews that all case patients had eaten at the Chi Chi’s restaurant at the Beaver Valley Mall in the weeks before becoming ill. PDOH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), conducted an epidemiological study of the outbreak, and determined that green onions imported from Mexico were the source of the outbreak.  The FDA issued a statement dated December 9, 2003, affirming that this outbreak was associated with eating raw or undercooked green onions.

Ultimately, over 650 confirmed cases of hepatitis A, both primary and secondary, were linked to consumption of green onions at the Beaver Valley Mall Chi-Chi’s.  The victims included at least 13 employees of the restaurant, and numerous residents of six other states.  Four people died as a consequence of their hepatitis A illness.  In addition, more than 9,000 people who had eaten at the restaurant during the period of potential exposure, or who had been exposed to ill Chi-Chi’s customers, obtained immune globulin shots to prevent hepatitis A infection.

Chili’s Salmonella Outbreak – Illinois

In late June of 2003, the Lake County Health Department (LCHD) was contacted by health care providers who had treated patients for Salmonellosis, and customers who had experienced a diarrheal illness after eating at the Vernon Hills, Illinois, Chili’s Grill & Bar.  LCHD sent investigators to inspect the restaurant for food safety violations. During the inspection, investigators discovered:

– 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 investigators that the machine had not worked properly for at least a week;
– Food was not stored at proper temperatures in the cooler;
– Three employees and a manager had called in sick that day with flu-like symptoms.

LCHD continued to receive reports of Salmonella infection from local hospitals and restaurant patrons throughout the next several days.  During the course of investigating the outbreak, investigators discovered that thirteen employees had been allowed to work despite suffering from diarrhea and other symptoms, and learned that Chili’s had operated despite having no water for part of one day, and no hot water for at least one full day.   Food safety regulations require that hot water be available at all times during a restaurant’s operation.

In mid-July, LCHD concluded its investigation, and reported that over 300 individuals had been sickened as a result of consuming contaminated food at a Chili’s.  Of those, 141 customers and 28 employees had tested positive for Salmonella, while 105 other infected individuals met the LCHD’s definition of a probable case.  LCHD issued a preliminary report that concluded the outbreak was caused by infected employees who contaminated food with Salmonella as a result of poor sanitary practices and improper food-handling.

Viva Cantaloupe Salmonella Outbreak – Nationwide

On May 25, 2001 the FDA issued a press release warning consumers that Viva brand imported cantaloupe had been identified as the source of a Salmonella poona outbreak.  FDA stated that the cantaloupe had been sold by S.P.R. De R.I. Legumbrera San Luis and S.P.R. De R.I. Los Arroyoas of Mexico and imported by Shipley Sales Service of Nogales, Arizona.  Illnesses associated with the consumption of the contaminated cantaloupe had been identified in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington State.  The cantaloupe was sold in retail stores and restaurants and possibly served in health care facilities.  FDA detained all cantaloupe imported by Shipley Sales Service and took steps to prevent the importation of any additional contaminated cantaloupe.   FDA outbreak investigators determined that 50 residents of California (28), Washington (8), Nevada (7), Arizona (6), and Oregon (1) had become ill with a genetically indistinguishable strain of Salmonella poona during the outbreak.  Nine patients were hospitalized and two died.

Senor Felix 5-Layer Dip Shigella Outbreak – Western States

On January 5, 2000, Public Health – Seattle & King County issued a notice to Washington residents that three people had been confirmed ill with Shigella infections after eating five-layer dip manufactured by Senor Felix Gourmet Mexican Foods and sold under several brand names.   Two other cases were pending confirmation in Washington, and more illnesses had been reported in California and Oregon.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a nationwide warning regarding the contaminated dip on January 27, 2000, and announced that 49 cases of Shigellosis associated with the consumption of Senor Felix dips had been reported in California, Oregon, and Washington; five patients had been hospitalized.  Health officials ultimately identified 406 people with Shigella infections who had eaten the dip in the week prior to illness.  Cases were reported in ten states. An environmental investigation of the processing facility revealed numerous problems with manufacturing practices and quality control at the Senor Felix facility.

Viva Mexico Shigella Outbreak – California

In October of 2000, the California Department of Health Services (CDHS) was notified that several Redwood City, California, residents had become ill with confirmed Shigella infections.   San Mateo County Communicable Disease Control staff conducted a case-control study, and learned that there was a statistically significant association between consuming the salsa prepared at Viva Mexico and illness. CDHS conducted an environmental assessment of the restaurant on October 24, noting multiple food code violations, and San Mateo County sanitarians closed the restaurant.  Violations cited included:

– No soap in the women’s restroom;
– No sanitizer on the premises;
– On site thermometer was reading temperatures 10°F off;
– Improper cooling of foods – meat, poultry, and beans – with core temperatures from 50-70°F after 18 hours of cooling;
– Cross contamination of foods – meat residue on knives used to cut produce.

When the outbreak investigation was complete, CDHS had identified 221 people who had eaten at Viva Mexico between October 19 and October 24 and had become ill with Shigella infections.   Seventy people were culture-confirmed with Shigella, and one person died as a result of her illness.