Today’s announcement of a cluster of matching Salmonella illnesses in Illinois residents, and from other areas, requires reflection on a few very memorable Salmonella outbreaks that have occurred there in the last few years:
- Tiny Greens sproutbreak sickens at least 70 with Salmonella
- Illinois Subway restaurants sicken over 100 with Salmonella Hvittingfoss
- Skokie Country Club causes at least 87 Salmonella illnesses
But there have been two “mothers of them all” in Illinois recently. For sheer size, not many compare with the Summer 2007 Salmonella outbreak at the Taste of Chicago, linked to Pars Cove restaurant, which sickened an estimated 700+ people. And for sheer insanity (i.e. bad food handling practices), the 2003 Salmonella outbreak linked to a Chili’s restaurant in Vernon Hills, Illinois. Here is a bit more:
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.