Fuego’s Tortilla Grill Restaurant in College Station Texas voluntarily shut down last week amid an investigation by the Brazos County Health Department into an outbreak of a food-borne illness. Health department officials said they started looking into a cluster of Salmonella Typhimurium-Ohio serotype cases in September 2013 and have documented 30 cases with 26 being residents of Brazos County or having traveled through the county. No deaths have been reported.
Sound familiar? It made me think of past outbreaks and past lawsuits. Here is a list of Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks – and lawsuits – at Mexican-style restaurants over the last several years.
Café Santa Fe Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuit – Arkansas (2005) On May 1, 2005, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADOH) issued a press release announcing that at least nine people had been confirmed ill with Salmonella infections after eating at the Café Santa Fe restaurant in Benton, Arkansas. The ADOH instructed anyone who had eaten at the restaurant in the previous seven days, and who was suffering symptoms like cramping, diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, and headache, to seek medical care as soon as possible. During the epidemiologic investigation into the outbreak, ADOH learned that one or two employees at Café Santa Fe had worked within days of seeking medical treatment for diarrhea or vomiting. ADOH conducted an environmental inspection of Café Santa Fe on April 30, and inspectors identified several unsafe food-handling practices.
Casa Lopez Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Ohio (2010) In May of 2010, the Athens City County Health Department (ACCHD) began investigating what appeared to be a foodborne illness outbreak among patrons of the Casa Lopez restaurant in Athens, Ohio. Public health investigators identified a total of 41 culture-confirmed cases of Salmonella serotype Enteritidis. An additional 14 case-patients who were not laboratory confirmed but were epidemiologically linked to the Casa Lopez restaurant were classified as either “probable” or “suspected” cases. The investigation into the Salmonella outbreak among Casa Lopez customers revealed several critical violations at the restaurant over multiple inspections. Investigators concluded that there was a strong association between eating chiles rellenos and Salmonella infection.
Iguana Joe’s Restaurant Salmonella Lawsuit & Litigation – Texas (2013) On June 25, 2013, Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services investigated a report of illness from a customer who had eaten at the Iguana Joe’s restaurant in Humble, Texas. Iguana Joe’s was temporarily shut down due to critical health violations. Multiple health inspections revealed dozens of health violations at the restaurant. The health department ultimately linked over a dozen people sick with Salmonella infections to the Iguana Joe’s restaurant. Seven were children who had fallen ill with Salmonella after eating at the restaurant.
Los Dos Amigos Mexican Restaurant Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Oregon (2010) In April 2010, the Douglas County (Oregon) Health Department announced a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak linked to Rosenberg-based Mexican restaurant Los Dos Amigos. When the investigation was completed in May 2010, health officials confirmed at least 30 people had been sickened in the outbreak, which was deemed the result of cross contamination.
On the Border Mexican Restaurant Salmonella Outbreak – Washington (2012) Clark County Public Health investigated the Salmonella outbreak after receiving reports of Salmonella infection from local health care providers. By October 24, at least 117 confirmed and suspected Salmonella cases had been traced to the restaurant. At least 4 Salmonella outbreak victims were hospitalized during the Salmonella outbreak. One remained in the hospital on October 15. Both patrons and food workers had become ill with Salmonella infections and the source of he Salmonella outbreak had not yet been identified. According to Clark County Public Health, the serotype of Salmonella associated with this outbreak was Salmonella Virchow, a rare strain of Salmonella that has never before been seen in Clark County.
San Antonio Taco Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Tennessee (2000) In August of 2000, over 200 people became ill with Salmonella infections after eating food from a San Antonio Taco Company franchise located in Nashville, Tennessee. After it became aware of the outbreak, the Metropolitan Health Department (MHD) of Nashville conducted an investigation into the outbreak, including an environmental health inspection of the restaurant and an epidemiologic investigation. During the inspection on August 10, MHD noted several sources of possible cross-contamination.
Taco Bell Salmonella Hartford and Baildon Outbreak Lawsuits – Nationwide (2010) In early August, 2010 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that they had identified two multi-state outbreaks of Salmonella, encompassing 155 ill persons in 21 states. Although CDC referred to the source as an unnamed Mexican Food Chain “Restaurant Chain A”, it was later revealed that the restaurant was Taco Bell. Not all of the illnesses are connected to the restaurant chain, and no specific location is indicated. The two strains (or serotypes) of Salmonella in the outbreaks are quite rare: Salmonella Hartford and Salmonella Baildon. Since April 1, 2010, a total of 75 individuals infected with a matching strain of Salmonella Hartford have been reported from 15 states. The number of ill people identified in each state is as follows: Colorado (1 ill), GA (1 ill), IL (5), IN (11), KY (23), MA (2), MI (3), MT (1), NC (1), NH (1), NY (1), OH (19), PA (1), SC (1) and WI (4). As of May 1, 2010 a total of 80 individuals infected with a matching strain of Salmonella Baildon have been reported from 15 states. Some states are involved in both outbreaks – others are not. The number of ill people identified in each state with Salmonella Baildon is as follows: CT (1), GA (1), IA (1), IL (20), IN (4), KY (5), MA (1), MI (4), MN (5), NJ (6), NY (2), OH (6), OR (1), WA (1) and WI (22).
Taco Bell Salmonella Outbreak Lawsuits – Multistate (2012) On January 19, 2012 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an investigation into a Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak that had sickened 68 people and hospitalized 21 in the following 10 states: Texas (43), Oklahoma (16), Kansas (2), Iowa (1), Michigan (1), Missouri (1), Nebraska (1), New Mexico (1), Ohio (1), and Tennessee (1). The CDC would only say that a Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain, referred to only as “Restaurant A” was the source of the outbreak. In the days and weeks that followed the announcement the CDC never named the company and defended its decision stating that the contaminated food was no longer in circulation and, thus was no longer a risk to consumers.
Federico’s Mexican Restaurant: According to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, at least 94 people fell ill with E. coli infections after eating food purchased at Federico’s in late July and early August of 2013. Of those, at least 23 people were hospitalized due to their E. coli infections, some with hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication of E. coli infection that can lead to kidney failure. The health department issued a final report in November 2013. In the report, MCDPH states that lettuce was the source of the E. coli outbreak at Federico’s. The health department investigation did not conclusively answer whether the lettuce was cross-contaminated with another food in the restaurant or if the lettuce entered the restaurant already contaminated.
Los Burritos Mexicanos: An E. coli outbreak in DuPage County, Illinois, is suspected to have been caused by food served at the Los Burritos Mexicanos restaurant in Lombard. The restaurant was closed on June 14, 2013 during an E. coli outbreak investigation. The DuPage County Health Department counted 31 confirmed and probable E. coli cases as part of the Los Burritos Mexicanos outbreak.
Ixtapa Family Mexican Restaurant: In October of 2008, Snohomish County Health Department (SCHD) epidemiologists investigated an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among patrons of the Ixtapa Family Mexican Restaurant in Lake Stevens, Washington. Dates of illness onset ranged from October 7-17, 2008. An investigation by the SCHD and the Washington State Department of Health (WSDOH) identified sixty-four cases of E. coli infection linked to the consumption of food at Ixtapa restaurant. Four confirmed cases were hospitalized, and one developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe complication of E. coli that can lead to kidney failure.
El Mexicano Mexican Restaurant: In May of 2012, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced that it was investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that had sickened 11 individuals in the Spartanburg area. All 11 victims reported eating at the same El Mexicano Mexican restaurant. Two of the victims developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Illnesses were related to eating at the restaurant during the last week of April.
Coco Locos Restaurant: In May 2013, the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Brazos County, Texas is being investigated by public health officials and is believed to have been caused by E. coli-contaminated ground beef served at the Coco Locos restaurant located in 300 block of George Bush Drive in College Station, TX. According to news reports, at least 10 people were part of the E. coli outbreak, which has been linked to ground beef served at the restaurant. Health officials have not yet determined whether the E. coli outbreak stemmed from under-cooked ground beef or from cross-contamination between raw ground beef and other foods or surfaces in the restaurant kitchen.
Habaneros Mexican Restaurant: In late August of 2003, staff in the Communicable Disease (CD) section at the St. Clair County Health Department (SCCHD) received a report that four Illinois residents who had recently traveled to the St. Clair area were experiencing bloody diarrhea and had gone to emergency rooms in their respective hometowns for treatment. On Tuesday, September 2, SCCHD was notified that E. coli O157:H7 had been isolated from at least one of the four people’s stool specimens. At the same time, the SCCHD began receiving other reports of diarrheal illness in patients seen by local physicians. Preliminary interviews of ill persons revealed that all had eaten at Habaneros prior to the onset of diarrhea. SCCHD conducted a foodborne outbreak investigation and found that of 64 persons, including seven employees, who had eaten at Habaneros between August 15, 2003 and September 5, 2003, thirty (47%) reported having diarrheal symptoms; ten sought medical care. An extensive food consumption history was obtained from each person interviewed, but no specific food-item was statistically associated with illness.
Taco Johns: In December 2006, Iowa and Minnesota health officials investigated an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak among patrons at Taco John’s restaurants in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Albert Lea and Austin, Minnesota. As of December 13, 2006, the Iowa Department of Health had confirmed that at least 50 Iowans had become ill with E. coli infections after eating at Taco John’s, and the Minnesota Department of Health had confirmed that at least 27 Minnesotans were part of the outbreak.
Taco Bell: Taco Bell restaurants were the source of an E. coli outbreak during the last week of November and the beginning of December 2006. Residents of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and South Carolina were confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as being part of the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak, which was traced to contaminated lettuce served in foods at Taco Bell restaurants. On December 13, 2006, the CDC announced that at 71 people had become ill with E. coli infections associated with the Taco Bell restaurant outbreak. Of those 71, 53 people had been hospitalized, 48 people were confirmed ill with E. coli, and 8 developed hemolytic uremic syndrome.