The CDC, public health and regulatory officials in several states, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) collected date to investigate a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157 infections. Epidemiologic and traceback data showed that organic walnuts distributed by Gibson Farms, Inc. were contaminated with E. coli and made people sick. 

A total of 13 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli were reported from 2 states – Washington (6) and California (7). Illnesses started on dates ranging from February 1, 2024, to April 4, 2024. Of 13 people with information available, 7 (54%) were hospitalized. Two patients developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition that can cause kidney failure. No deaths were reported.

The true number of sick people in this outbreak was likely much higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not have been limited to the states with known illnesses. This is because many people recover without medical care and are not tested for E. coli

Public health officials collected many different types of information from sick people, including their age, race, ethnicity, other demographics, and the foods they ate in the week before they got sick. This information provided clues to help investigators identify the source of the outbreak.

The list below has information about sick people in this outbreak (“n” is the number of people with information available for each demographic).

  • Age (n=13): Range from 6 to 84 years, Median of 60 years
  • Sex (n=13): 62% female, 38% male
  • Race (n=11): 91% White, 9% African American/Black
  • Ethnicity (n=11): 100% non-Hispanic

State and local public health officials interviewed people about the foods they ate in the week before they got sick. Of the 11 people interviewed, all 11 (100%) reported eating walnuts. This percentage was significantly higher than the 26% of respondents who reported eating walnuts in the FoodNet Population Survey—a survey that helps estimate how often people eat various foods linked to diarrheal illness. This difference suggested that people in this outbreak got sick from eating walnuts. Of 11 people interviewed, almost all reported buying organic walnuts from bulk bins in food co-ops or natural food stores. Investigators identified two illness subclusters of two people each who purchased bulk bin walnuts from the same store location.

Laboratory and Traceback Data

Public health investigators used the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. CDC PulseNet manages a national database of DNA fingerprints of bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. DNA fingerprinting is performed on bacteria using a method called whole genome sequencing (WGS). WGS showed that bacteria from sick people’s samples were closely related genetically. This suggests that people in this outbreak got sick from the same food. 

Traceback data collected by FDA determined that Gibson Farms, Inc was the supplier of organic walnuts sold in bulk bins at stores where ill people shopped.

E. coli:  Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of E. coli outbreaks and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The E. coli lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of E. coli and other foodborne illness infections and have recovered over $850 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation.  Our E. coli lawyers have litigated E. coli and HUS cases stemming from outbreaks traced to ground beef, raw milk, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and other food products.  The law firm has brought E. coli lawsuits against such companies as Jack in the Box, Dole, ConAgra, Cargill, and Jimmy John’s.  We have proudly represented such victims as Brianne KinerStephanie Smith and Linda Rivera.

If you or a family member became ill with an E. coli infection or HUS after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark E. coli attorneys for a free case evaluation.

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