In the same month CDC initiated a call to action for state and federal governments to collaborate to fight an increase in multistate foodborne illnesses, two E. coli outbreaks are sweeping across the nation. The first outbreak involved a string of Chipotle restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. This cluster of illnesses with the same E. coli strain was initially believed to be localized to Washington and Oregon, though it has now spread to four additional states: Ohio, New York, California and Minnesota.
A total of 45 people are reported to have been infected with the outbreak strain. At this time, investigators say the evidence suggests a common meal item or ingredient served at Chipotle restaurants is likely the source of the outbreak. However, a specific source of the bacteria has yet to be found.
Of the 45 reported illnesses, 43 people reported eating at Chipotle in the week before getting sick. In response to the outbreak, Chipotle closed 43 restaurants in the Seattle, WA and Portland, OR earlier this month. These restaurants were later reopened after a thorough cleaning.
The restaurant chain says it has taken aggressive steps to make sure its restaurants are as safe as possible. Specifically, the company conducted deep cleaning at the restaurants linked to this incident, replaced ingredients in those restaurants, changed food preparation procedures, provided all necessary supply chain data to investigators and surveyed employees to ensure none have had any symptoms of illness.
The company is also expanding the testing of key ingredients, examining all of its food-safety procedures to find any opportunity for improvement and is working with food safety scientists to assess all its food safety programs.
“We take this incident very seriously because the safety of our food and well-being of our customers are always our highest priorities,” says Steve Ells, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle. “We are committed to taking any and all necessary actions to make sure our food is as safe as possible, and we are working diligently with the health agencies.”
Later this month, CDC announced it is investigating an outbreak of E. coli linked to rotisserie chicken salad made and sold at Costco Wholesale stores in multiple states. As of November 23, 19 people with this outbreak strain of E. coli were reported to be infected in seven states, including Washington, California, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Missouri and Virginia. The CDC investigation found 14 of the infected people purchased or ate the chicken salad product in the week before their illness started.
Costco reported it has removed all the remaining rotisserie chicken salad from its stores and has stopped further production. Consumers who purchased the product should throw it away. After testing the chicken salad, health officials in Montana traced the source of the E. coli to a celery and onion vegetable mix used in the salad. The product's manufacturer, Taylor Farms Pacific Inc., has issued a recall for the vegetable mix.
These simultaneous outbreaks underscore the CDC recommendation based on the report it released earlier this month on the rise of multistate foodborne disease outbreaks in the US. (In the first five years of this decade, 120 multistate outbreaks were reported, an average of two dozen a year—a significant increase from the 11 a year reported from 1995 to 2009.)
The report recommends local, state and national health agencies work closely with the food industry to speed multistate outbreak investigations. By doing this, CDC says these investigations can reveal fixable problems and the lessons learned that can help strengthen food safety.
In addition, the report highlights the need for the food industry to play a larger role in improving food safety by following best practices for growing, processing and shipping foods. CDC says the food industry can help stop outbreaks and lessen their impact by keeping detailed records to allow faster tracing of foods from source to destination, by using store loyalty cards to help identify which foods made people sick and by notifying customers of food recalls.