Two recent E. coli outbreaks occurred at the end of the year. In the first case, E. coli O157 infected a celery and onion blend produced by Taylor Fresh Foods (Taylor Farms West) that was used in a rotisserie chicken salad sold at Costco Wholesale stores in multiple states. A sample of Taylor’s Celery and Onion Diced Blend taken by the Montana Department of Health tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. Further laboratory analysis was unable to confirm the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in a sample of celery and onion diced blend produced by Taylor Farms Pacific, Inc. that was collected from a Costco store in Montana. The ongoing investigation is working to identify which specific ingredient in the chicken salad is linked to illness. The celery and onion diced blend has not been ruled out as a source of the outbreak.
Taylor Fresh Foods subsequently recalled all products that may have included the affected celery. The company listed several celery-based products in the FDA recall, which affected other major retailers including 7-Eleven, Albertsons, King Sooper, Raleys, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Savemart, Starbucks, Target, Tonys, Vons and Walmart.
As of November 23, 19 people from seven states were reported to have been infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7, according to CDC. Most were from states in the western US. Five people were hospitalized, and two developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure. No deaths were reported. Fourteen people purchased or ate rotisserie chicken salad from Costco in the week before the illness started.
In the second case, E. Coli O26 was traced to Chipotle Mexican Grill Restaurants. According to CDC, as of December 4, 2015, 52 cases in nine states had been reported; 20 people were hospitalized. However, there were no reports of HSU or deaths. The majority of the illnesses were reported in Washington and Oregon during the month of October.
Forty-seven (90 percent) of the affected people reported eating at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in the week before their illness began. The epidemiologic evidence available in early December suggested a common meal item or ingredient served at the restaurants in several states was a likely source of this outbreak, though there has been nothing so far to pinpoint the source.
As of December 4, 21 E. coli O26 (or STEC O26) isolates from patients in Washington (16), California (2) and New York (1) were found to be highly related genetically to each another.
A Chipotle update from December 5 reports thousands of food sample tests from restaurants linked to the incident have shown no E. coli. Most likely, no ingredients connected to affected restaurant(s) remain in Chipotle’s supply system. Since the incident began, the company has continued to serve more than 1 million customers a day in its restaurants nationwide without incident.
Chipotle is working with Seattle-based IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group to help identify opportunities to enhance food safety practices throughout its operations—from the farms that supply its food to the restaurants that prepare and serve it.
Chipotle and IEH have created an enhanced safety program that includes:
- Implementing high-resolution (DNA) testing of all fresh produce to ensure food quality and safety before shipping it to restaurants
- Initiating end-of-shelf-life testing where ingredient samples are checked to ensure quality specifications are maintained through an ingredient’s shelf life
- Pursuing continuous improvements throughout the supply chain using test result data to measure the performance of vendors and suppliers
- Enhancing internal training to ensure employees understand the standards for food safety and handling.
While E. coli O26 is not as common as E. coli O157:H7, it has caused similar outbreaks in the past. For example, in 2012, an E. Coli O26 outbreak was attributed to raw clover sprouts at Jimmy John’s Restaurants. The FSMA Final Rule on Produce Safety (Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packaging, and Holding Produce for Human Consumption) became law on November 13, 2015. The rule includes agricultural water; biological soil amendments; sprouts; domesticated and wild animals; worker training, health and hygiene; and equipment (tools and buildings).
CDC/Jimmy John’s Restaurants (2012): http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2012/o26-02-12/index.html
FSMA Rule on Produce Safety: www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/ucm334114.htm