The Illinois Department of Public Health is investigating salmonella contaminated alfalfa sprouts as the source of at least 46 confirmed salmonella illnesses in 9 counties.  The outbreak cases were sickened at Jimmy John’s restaurants. 

Illinois residents have been plagued by major foodpoisoning outbreaks in the last few years:

Subway, Salmonella Hvittingfoss, 2010

In May, Illinois state health officials traced a widespread Salmonella outbreak at Subway restaurants to one Central Illinois food distributor. In the final outbreak report, health officials said that a specific contaminated item could not be identified in the outbreak, but that it was likely a fresh produce item.  The outbreak caused 109 confirmed cases of Salmonella Hvittingfoss, and another 90-plus probable or suspect cases of the illness between late April and June.

Subway, Lombard, Illinois 2010

On March 4, 2010, a Subway restaurant in Lombard, Illinois closed in the midst of a large Shigella outbreak that ultimately caused at least 125 confirmed illnesses, and likely hundreds of other illnesses. The restaurant remained closed for over a month during the Dupage County health department’s investigation. The results of Dupage County’s investigation have not yet been disclosed, but it is widely suspected that cross-contamination by ill employees was a cause of the outbreak.

Pars Cove, Taste of Chicago, 2007

According to the Chicago Department of Health, over 700 people became ill after they ate food purchased from the Pars Cove booth at the 2007 Taste of Chicago festival. The strain of Salmonella involved in the outbreak was Salmonella Heidelberg, which is a far more common strain than the Salmonella hvittingfoss strain involved in the current Subway outbreak. Many people in the Pars Cove outbreak required hospitalization, and a few continue to suffer from either irritable bowel syndrome or reactive arthritis as a result of their infections.

Chili’s, Vernon Hills 2003

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.