Foodpoisoning is a major national health concern, with associated costs topping $152 billion annually. Currently, several major national outbreaks and recalls are occurring, resulting in likely many hundreds, if not thousands of cases of foodborne illness. Since July, over 245 confirmed cases of foodpoisoning (specifically salmonella) are linked to salami coated with black pepper; and Basic Food Flavors, Inc., a Las Vegas company is at the epicenter of a massive recall of hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) used in many foods distributed nationally.
Another outbreak that is thankfully, hopefully over is from infection by Shigella sonnei at a Chicago-area Subway restaurant. The restaurant was closed by health authorities. Actually, the restaurant in question is located in Lombard, Dupage County, Illinois, but for any national readers, calling it Chicagoland probably gives you a better idea of where the restaurant is. So far, there are reports of at least 8 confirmed cases in the outbreak with four hospitalizations.
But the current Shigella sonnei outbreak linked to the Illinois Subway restaurant is only one of several major outbreaks to hit the general Chicago area in recent years. In July 2007, over 700 people became ill in an outbreak linked to food sold by Pars Cove restaurant at the Taste of Chicago Festival.
And In June 2003, a large Salmonella outbreak occurred in Vernon Hills, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. The outbreak occurred at a Chili’s restaurant, and the conditions found at the restaurant were memorably appalling. Here is a short summary of the outbreak:
The Lake County Health Department concluded its investigation into the outbreak on July 18 2003, by which time over 300 individuals had been sickened as a result of consuming contaminated food. Of those, 141 customers and 28 employees had tested positive for the Salmonella bacteria, while 105 other infected individuals met the LCHD’s definition of a probable case. LCHD issued a preliminary report that concluded the outbreak was caused by infected employees who contaminated food with Salmonella as a result of poor sanitary practices and improper food-handling. It was by this time also determined that the Salmonella associated with the outbreak was Salmonella serotype javiana, a relatively rare and virulent strain often associated with foodborne transmission.
Once the LCHD believed the outbreak was controlled, the department sent a letter by certified mail informing the restaurant’s management of a hearing scheduled for July 31 to discuss their failure to cease operations during periods where no hot water, or no water at all, was available, failure to adequately monitor their employees’ health, and the steps management had implemented to prevent future outbreaks.
Following the hearing, Executive Director Dale Galassie stated that Chili’s had violated local ordinances by remaining open and serving customers while without available water. Although LCHD decided not to pursue punitive measures against Chili’s and its management, the department sent a letter to Chili’s corporate parent requesting reimbursement of outbreak-related investigation costs, including testing and training of staff, in the total amount of $32,500. A health department official stated, “[t]hese were extraordinary circumstances. There were excessive costs in dealing with [the outbreak] and therefore we are requesting reimbursement. The good news is that it prevented a secondary outbreak as a result of cooperation of the Chili’s corporation, local media, and ourselves, but it doesn’t excuse poor local management decisions made that caused it.” After a relatively lengthy, silent delay, it was announced on December 2, 2003, that Chili’s agreed to reimburse the LCHD for the costs associated with the outbreak.