Seattle King County Public Health is currently investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 – one of the most serious foodborne illnesses you can contract. Our thoughts are with the families affected by this outbreak, and we appreciate the support of the community as we work to protect the health of the public.
A person can get an E. coli O157 infection from many different sources: by eating or drinking something contaminated with animal or human fecal matter, through animal contact, or through contact with another person who has an E. coli infection. One of our responsibilities at Public Health is to track down these sources. When there are illnesses associated with any one of the more than 12,000 food establishments in the county, we search for contaminated products, ill food workers, or improper food handling.
We follow specific steps to find clues that help us pinpoint the source(s) that may be linked to illness. Here are key steps of this current investigation.
- We interviewed people who got sick.
At this time, we know that six people have been infected with the same strain of E. coli (three have been hospitalized). When Public Health determines that anyone is sick from a serious foodborne illness like E. coli, we interview them to determine what may have caused their illness. We do this to find the source of the outbreak and prevent others from getting infected. In this instance, through a few initial interviews with ill people, we determined that everyone who became sick had something in common – they ate food prepared by a local food vendor called Los Chilangos. Public Health took swift action and required Los Chilangos to cease operations.
- We investigated a food business that was associated with the people who got sick.
But we didn’t stop there. Los Chilangos serves food at seven farmers markets in King and Snohomish Counties, operates two food trucks, and also caters events. Los Chilangos utilizes a shared kitchen space, called a commissary kitchen. The kitchen that they use is Eastside Commercial Kitchen, where they share space and equipment with about a dozen other food businesses.
- We intervened at the specific site and operation.
The condition of the commissary and the potential for cross contamination were deemed an imminent health hazard, and the health officer issued a cease and desist order to the commissary on Thursday, August 27. Additionally, all of the food vendors permitted by Public Health that use this kitchen were also told to cease operations. Recognizing that this lapse in operation hurts business, our team has worked diligently with these vendors to find new places for them to resume their work and remind them about important food safety measures.
- Next steps: tracing the source
As of today, the investigation isn’t over. We are still investigating the source of the E. coli. If we determine that a food contained the E. coli bacteria, we will try to trace it back to stores, suppliers, and even farms to address the root of the problem with corrective actions, if possible.
But, it’s possible that the source of E. coli may never be determined. E coli is often linked to beef, but it can also be linked to produce, such as spinach and sprouts, along with a variety of other foods such as unpasteurized juices, raw milk, game meats, and other common foods.
For outbreaks such as this one, we continue to monitor the situation and look for other common factors among ill people. While we know Los Chilangos is linked, they may not be the only ones involved. For instance, the source of E. coli could be served by other vendors.
We are currently working with all of the businesses connected to this outbreak to make sure that they are not using any products that may have become contaminated and that they have food safety measures in place. This includes having the businesses address needed repairs to their equipment, providing education to their staff, and ensuring their operations are safe to open.
E. coli: 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.
If you or a family member became ill with an E. coli infection or HUS after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark E. coli attorneys for a free case evaluation.