Fox 6 News in Milwaukee reported today that the state of Wisconsin, with the aid of local health authorities, is investigating 6 E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in Belgium, Wisconsin.  Wisconsin has been hit hard by E. coli before.  Why is it that some states–Minnesota, Utah, and a list of 3 or 4 others–seem to be involved in many major E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks?

Forty-nine Wisconsin residents were sickened in the infamous spinach E. coli O157:H7 (and other serotypes) outbreak in August/September 2006.  (Actually, it was a call from the mother, in the second week of September, of TWO kids infected in the outbreak that helped us figure out exactly what was happening), as were multiple Minnesota residents.  In the Cargill E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in 2007, many Minnesota residents were sickened including Stephanie Smith.  And in the JBS E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in summer 2009, at least six Wisconsin residents were infected, including Joshua Rosploch, who developed HUS.  This is just a short list, but these several states (most prominently Wisconsin and Minnesota) truly have been at the epicenter of surveillance and detection of multiple major national outbreaks. 

Why?  Unlucky distribution of the implicated products?  Wisconsin and Minnesota residents eat more beef and bad produce? 

Many would say that the real reason doesn’t have anything to do with plain old nebulous bad luck.  Instead, it happens because these states have surveillance, microbiological, and sanitation personnel who are among the most talented anywhere.  It is not mere coincidence that these states figure prominently in many outbreaks of foodborne disease.