Illnesses continue to be reported in the Shigella outbreak tied to the Subway restaurant in Lombard, Illinois.   Restaurant based Shigella outbreaks, though, are nothing new.  Sometimes, the results can be tragic.  In the fall of 2000, Shigella sickened hundreds, and left one person dead, in an outbreak at a Mexican restaurant in Northern California. 

The outbreak was investigated by health officials with the State of California.  The Division of Communicable Disease Control Branch reported that:

Between October 19 and 24, approximately 221 individuals became ill after eating at the Viva Mexico restaurant in Redwood City, CA. One death occurred in a female who ate at Viva Mexico on October 19. Symptoms included fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea (sometimes bloody) and dehydration. Seventy persons were culture confirmed with Shigella Sonnei. Analysis of data from a case-control study completed by San Mateo County Communicable Disease Control staff of all patients, completed by San Mateo County Communicable Disease Control staff of all patients, revealed a statistically significant association with salsa served at the table.

As is often the case, an environmental assessment of the restaurant uncovered conditions that may have contributed to the outbreak. 

An environmental assessment was conducted by sanitarians with San Mateo County Environmental Health on October 24. Due to multiple violations of the California Uniform Retail Food Facility Law, the restaurant was closed by San Mateo County sanitarians on October 24, 2000.

Additionally, the environmental assessment made by the county health made the following observations:

  • 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 – meet, 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.

As long as restaurants fail to heed sanitation principles, illnesses will result.