It is expected that the CDC will announce this week that the two E. coli O26 outbreaks are over.
Fifty-three people infected with the outbreak strain of STEC O26 have been reported from 9 states. The majority of illnesses have been reported from Washington and Oregon during October 2015. The number of ill people reported from each state is as follows: California (3), Illinois (1), Maryland (1), Minnesota (2), New York (1), Ohio (3), Oregon (13), Pennsylvania (2), and Washington (27).
Among people for whom information is available, illnesses started on dates ranging from October 19, 2015 to November 14, 2015. Ill people range in age from 1 year to 94, with a median age of 21. Fifty-nine percent of ill people are female. Twenty (38%) people reported being hospitalized. There have been no reports of hemolytic uremic syndrome and no deaths.
The most recent person reporting Chipotle exposure became ill on November 10, 2015. Reports to PulseNet of new illnesses in this outbreak have slowed substantially since the peak of the outbreak in October 2015. CDC and state and local public health partners are continuing laboratory surveillance through PulseNet to identify additional ill people and to interview them.
State and local public health officials continue to interview ill people to obtain information about foods they might have eaten and other exposures in the week before their illness started. To date, 46 (88%) of 52 people interviewed reported eating at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant. The investigation is still ongoing to identify common meal items or ingredients causing illness.
Investigators are also using whole genome sequencing (WGS) to get more information about the DNA fingerprint of the STEC O26 bacteria causing illness. WGS has been performed on STEC O26 isolates from 29 ill people in Washington (16), California (2), Maryland (1), Minnesota (2), New York (1), Ohio (3), Oregon (3), and Pennsylvania (1). All 29 isolates were highly related genetically to one another. This provides additional evidence that illnesses outside the Pacific Northwest are related to the illnesses in Oregon and Washington.
Additionally, 5 people infected with a different, rare DNA fingerprint of STEC O26 have been identified in Kansas (1), North Dakota (1), and Oklahoma (3) and appear to be linked to Chipotle Mexican Grill. The infections started on dates ranging from November 18, 2015 to November 26, 2015. All five (100%) reported eating at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in the week before illness started. All 3 Oklahoma ill people ate at a single Chipotle location in Oklahoma, and the North Dakota ill person traveled to Kansas during their exposure period and ate at the same Chipotle location as the Kansas ill person. It is not known if these infections are related to the larger outbreak of STEC O26 infections; this investigation is ongoing. WGS is being used to determine if this strain is genetically related to the STEC O26 causing the larger outbreak.
And, let’s not forget:
When: July 2015
Sickened: 5 people
Culprit: E. coli O157:H7
When: August 2015
Sickened: At least 234
Source: Ill worker
When: August and September 2015
Sickened: 64 people
Culprit: Salmonella Newport
When: December 2015
Sickened: At least 136 people
Source: Ill worker
So, how’s Chipolte’s 12 Step Program coming along?
- Park my large ego. Monetary success can and does breed a sense of otherness – especially when the core of your business culture is that your brand of “integrity” is better than your competitors. With a crisis of this proportion facing the company going humble is not a bad thing.
- It is time to be as open as possible. Why was the July E. coli outbreak in Seattle kept from the public by both public health and the company? What did I learn in the August Salmonella outbreak in Minnesota and the Norovirus outbreak in California? Could have being open and learning from these three outbreaks have prevented the next two E. coli outbreaks and the Norovirus outbreak that has nearly brought my company to its knees?
- It is time to have a culture of food safety added to the “integrity” of the food. I have now learned that bacteria and viruses do not care a whit if my food’s ingredients are organic, sustainable, non-GMO and humanely raised.
- I am going to make mandatory reading Benedict’s book “Poisoned” and Yannis’s book “Food Safety Culture.”
- I am going to hire a vice-president of Food Safety. That person will report directly to me and to the Board of Directors. Like Dave Theno being brought in to address the Jack-in-the-Box crisis of 1993, this person will have the resources and access to decision makers to create a culture of food safety from the top down.
- With input from the new vice-president, we will hire the consultants and experts necessary to create a sustainable food safety program that brings even more meaning to our core value of “food with integrity.”
- I would invite input from regulators, academics, pubic health officials, and yes, the public to add to and critic the new food safety program.
- The company’s new mantra – “Safe Food with Integrity” – will be completely transparent and shared with all – including our competitors.
- I am going to rehire the two Boston employees fired last week and instead fire someone in management that allowed the company to drift into a position that allowed these outbreaks to occur. I am likely not going to fire myself, but I certainly will take a cut in pay to $1 a year until the ship gets off the rocks – same with the existing top management.
- I will stop “shooting the messengers.” This crisis was not caused by public health announcements (one could argue in fact had the July outbreak been announced perhaps all others would have been avoided) or the coverage by the media. We like it when public health covers for us and when the press fawns, its time to grow up and take the good with the less so.
- Hit the reset button. Shut every store and open them only when each store is actually ready – not just “deep cleaned” – but ready from a structural and management (food safety culture) perspective.
- Invite the customers back with open arms – they will come back.
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 $600 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 Kiner, Stephanie Smith and Linda Rivera.