Packaged salads suspected in multistate E coli outbreak

Federal and state health officials are investigating a multistate Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to packaged salads made by a California firm and sold in some western-state Trader Joe's stores that has so far sickened 26 people in three states.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said yesterday that public health investigators are using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and data from PulseNet, a national subtyping network to detect other infections that may be part of the outbreak. The CDC said the outbreak strain's PFGE pattern has never been seen before in PulseNet.

In addition to the CDC, groups investigating the outbreak include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and health officials from three states reporting cases so far: California, Arizona, and Washington. So far most of the cases have been reported from California (22), with Washington reporting 3 and Arizona reporting 1.

The USDA said it started monitoring a cluster of E coli O157:H7 illnesses on Oct 29, then was notified by the FDA on Nov 6 that California health officials had reported patients who got sick after eating prepackaged salads that contained grilled chicken.

So far the investigation points to two ready-to-eat salads produced by Glass Onion Catering, based in Richmond, Calif., and sold at Trader Joe's stores as one likely source of the outbreak. More efforts are under way to determine the source of the contamination and flag other tainted products that are still in the marketplace.

Yesterday the catering company recalled 181,620 pounds of ready-to-eat salads and sandwich wrap products with fully-cooked chicken and ham that may be contaminated, according to a notice posted by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The products also include food regulated by the FDA, which posted a list of recalled products and other information on the outbreak.

FSIS-regulated products include 15 different kinds of grilled chicken salads, grilled chicken wraps, plus one type of ham-and-cheese wrap. The items were produced between Sep 23 and Nov 6 and were shipped to distribution centers for retail sale in eight western states: Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

The FDA recall notice includes five salads and one type of wrap that don't contain meat, and all are made by Atherstone Foods, also based in Richmond, Calif. Those products have "best by" dates from Sep 23 to Nov 14 and were distributed mainly to retail outlets in northern California, including Trader Joe's, Walgreens, and Whole Foods.

Trader Joe's yesterday issued a consumer update that narrowed the types of potentially tainted salads, packaged in clamshell containers, that some of its stores sold. The list includes Trader Joe's brand Mexicali Salad with chili lime chicken from stores in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington. Meanwhile, it said two types of potentially contaminated salad that carry the Trader Joe's label were sold at its northern California and northern Nevada (Reno and Carson City) stores: field fresh chopped salad with grilled chicken and classic Greek salad.

For patients with available information, dates of illness onset range from Sep 29 to Oct 26, and ages range from 4 years to 78 years, according to the CDC. More than half (61%) are female. Of 21 patients with known medical information, 6 were hospitalized, 2 with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a potentially fatal kidney complication. No deaths have been reported.

The CDC urged consumers to check their homes for the products and dispose of the ones they find. It also warned consumers not to eat the potentially contaminated products, especially children younger than 5 years old, older people, and those with weakened immune systems.

See also:

Nov 10 CDC outbreak announcement

Nov 10 FSIS news release

Nov 9 FDA recall notice

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