Over the last decade Costco has been involved with Foodborne Illness Outbreaks linked to products that it sold – generally, however, they have been few and far between.
On January 5, 2000, Public Health – Seattle & King County issued a notice to Washington residents that three people had been confirmed ill with Shigella infections after eating five-layer dip manufactured by Senor Felix Gourmet Mexican Foods and sold under several brand names. Two other cases were pending confirmation in Washington, and more illnesses had been reported in California and Oregon.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a nationwide warning regarding the contaminated dip on January 27, 2000, and announced that 49 cases of Shigellosis associated with the consumption of Senor Felix dips had been reported in California, Oregon, and Washington; five patients had been hospitalized.
Senor Felix recalled its entire inventory of bean dip, which had been sold under four brand names: Senor Felix’s Five Layered Party Dip, Delicioso 5 Layer Dip, Trader Joe’s Five Layered Fiesta Dip, and The Carryout Café Mexican Fiesta Party Dip 5 Layer.
Health officials ultimately identified 406 people with Shigella infections who had eaten the dip in the week prior to illness. Cases were reported in ten states. An environmental investigation of the processing facility revealed numerous problems with manufacturing practices and quality control at the Senor Felix facility.
On May 12, 2004, the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory identified a cluster of five patients infected with a genetically indistinguishable strain of Salmonella Enteritidis through pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) testing. The five patients were from four Oregon counties and had onsets of illness ranging from February-April, 2004.
After the discovery of the matching strain through PFGE, the five Oregon patients were interviewed. All reported consuming Kirkland Signature brand raw almonds, purchased at Costco stores, and produced and distributed by Paramount Farms, before becoming ill. A case-control study was conducted, and Oregon health officials concluded that Paramount Farms almonds were the definitive source of the outbreak.
Further investigation by Oregon health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other state public health agencies resulted in the documentation of at least 29 patients in 12 states and Canada with matching Salmonella Enteritidis isolates dating as far back as September, 2003. As a result, Paramount Farms recalled roughly 18 million pounds of raw almonds.
In addition to epidemiologic evidence that confirmed almonds as the source of the outbreak, an environmental investigation revealed Salmonella to be present on two-huller-shellers used to shell almonds during the period the contaminated almonds were produced.
In early November, 2010, Costco, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced that Bravo Farms Dutch Style Gouda Cheese sold and sampled at Costco Wholesale stores in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico was the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. At least 38 people in those five states became ill with a unique strain of E. coli O157:H7 that had never before been seen in the CDC’s PulseNet database.
The public health investigation into the outbreak began in mid-October, as patients with E. coli O157:H7 infections were diagnosed in various states where the Costco “cheese road show” took place. Most of the victims either purchased the Bravo Farms Gouda cheese or sampled it at Costco stores. Arizona and Colorado reported the most outbreak cases: Arizona (19), Colorado (11), California (3), New Mexico (3), and Nevada (2).
In a remarkable move, U.S. marshals and Food and Drug Administration agents raided Bravo Farms and seized the gouda, along with piles of edam and blocks of white cheddar on January 27, 2011. Investigators seized more than 80,000 pounds of cheese with the intent of disposing of it as garbage and reported numerous food safety violations at the Bravo Farms cheese manufacturing facility.
Additionally, 15 of 24 cheese samples collected tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogenic organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in children and the elderly. The samples came from four different types of Bravo Farms cheese, including cheddar, edam, gouda, and jack. And one sample, a cheddar cheese, tested positive for E. coli O157:H7.
165 people were confirmed to have become ill from hepatitis A linked to pomegranate arils contained in ‘Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend’ in 10 states: Arizona (23), California (79), Colorado (28), Hawaii (8), New Hampshire (1), New Jersey (1), New Mexico (11), Nevada (6), Utah (3), and Wisconsin (2). [Note: The cases reported from Wisconsin resulted from exposure to the product in California, the cases reported from New Hampshire reported fruit exposure during travel to Nevada, and the case reported in New Jersey was a household contact of a confirmed case from Colorado.] Eight of the confirmed cases were household contacts of confirmed cases (secondary cases).