January 22, 2018

Most Serious Foodborne Illness Outbreaks of 2011

Now that 2012 is here, let’s take a look back at the most serious foodborne illness outbreaks of 2011. Every year, on average, 3,000 people die in the United States because of foodborne illness.

Campylobacter in a petri dishIt’s important to stress that you, as a consumer, do have some control over food safety, but there are some times when no matter how strictly you follow food safety rules, food poisoning is going to occur, especially if a product is seriously adulterated. It’s also important to note that selling food tainted, or adulterated, with bacteria is illegal.

1. Jensen Farms Cantaloupe Outbreak. This outbreak, from Listeria monocytogenes, sickened 146 and killed 30 people. On December 21, 2011, the CDC declared the outbreak was over. Consumers were warned to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before peeling and eating them. But some produce, such as cantaloupe, has webbed and wrinkled skin and it’s impossible to remove all bacteria even with a scrub brush.

2. Strawberry E. coli Outbreak. In Oregon, strawberries were contaminated with E. coli and one person died. At least 14 people were sickened and four were hospitalized. The outbreak was traced to deer feces in the Jaquith strawberry farm field. It’s difficult for consumers to wash strawberries thoroughly simply because they are so delicate.

3. Hannaford Ground Beef Recall. Hannaford grocery stores recalled ground beef products contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Salmonella after 14 people were sickened. This outbreak may still be in the early stages of the epidemiological curve. On December 20, 2011, more Salmonella cases were linked to the ground beef, and on December 31, 2011, four more cases were confirmed. This case underscores the need for better record keeping and traceback among grocers and distributors.

Always cook ground beef and other ground meats to 165 degrees F, wash your hands, plates, and utensils with hot soapy water after contact, and never place cooked meat on a plate used to hold raw meat. The problem with adulterated ground meats is that the bacteria spread so easily, no matter how carefully you wash your hands and utensils.

4. Cargill Recalls Ground Turkey. On August 3, 2011, Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground turkey products produced at their Arkansas plant. One person died and 76 people were sickened as a result of this outbreak. Again, always cook ground meats to 165 degrees F and wash hands, utensils, plates, and countertops thoroughly.

5. Agromod Produce Papaya Salmonella Outbreak. In July 2011, papayas imported from Mexico and sold in Texas most likely caused 97 cases of Salmonella Agona. The fruit was probably distributed throughout the country. Ten people were hospitalized, but there have been no deaths to date.

6. Tyson Ground Beef E. coli Outbreak. In September, Tyson Fresh Meats Inc. recalled more than 130,000 pounds of ground beef contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7. There were people sickened by this outbreak, including a family in Ohio, but there are no final statistics on the numbers, or how many may have developed HUS, or hemolytic uremic syndrome as a result of the poisoning. Tyson made the news again in December with another ground beef recall of 40,000 pounds. So far, no illnesses have been linked to this latest recall.

7. Schnucks Salad Bars Infected with E. coli. In October 2011, some romaine lettuce served at grocery store salad bars in Missouri were associated with E. coli 0157:H7. At least 60 people were sickened in 10 states. The outbreak was traced to one farm which also provided lettuces to the University of Minnesota and University of Missouri campuses. Lettuce is another food that’s difficult to clean because of crevices.

8. Organic Pastures Raw Milk Quarantined. In November 2011, the California Department of Public Healthy quarantined and recalled raw milk from Organic Pastures because five children who drank the milk were infected with the same strain of E. coli 0157:H7. Testing milk samples did not reveal any E. coli 0157:H7, but the cases were connected because of epidemiological findings; in other words, the only common food among the ill was the raw milk. Raw milk can contain Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli, which poses a serious threat to anyone in a high risk group.

The dairy was released from quarantine in December 2011. Raw milk can be legally sold in California (but not in all states, and the milk cannot cross state lines), but must carry this warning: “Warning – raw (unpasteurized) milk and raw milk dairy products may contain disease-causing micro-organisms. Persons at highest risk of disease from these organisms include newborns and infants; the elderly; pregnant women; those taking corticosteroids, antibiotics or antacids; and those having chronic illnesses or other conditions that weaken their immunity.”

9. Lebanon Bologna Recall. In March, several states confirmed 14 cases of illnesses connected to the same strain of E. coli 0157:H7 found in the Seltzer’s brand Lebanon bologna from the Palmyra Bologna Company. About 23,000 pounds of the semi-dry sausage were recalled. Since bologna is ready-to-eat and not cooked before eating, it’s particularly vulnerable to adulteration.

10. Cozy Vale Creamy Raw Milk Products. In August, Cozy Vale Creamery’s raw whole and skim milk were recalled in connection to an outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 in Washington state. The milking parlor and processing areas were contaminated with the same strain of bacteria. Three people were sickened; two were children who developed HUS.

11. DeFranco & Sons Hazelnuts Recall. At the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, people in several states were infected with E. coli 0157:H7 associated with bullk in-shell hazelnuts (also known as filberts) sold by DeFranco & Sons of Los Angeles. The nuts were sold nationwide. At least six people were sickened in this outbreak. Hazelnuts and other nuts are often eaten raw.

There will be more outbreaks, recalls, illnesses, and deaths in 2012 related to adulterated food. Hopefully, the new Food Safety Modernization Act will prevent or limit some of these outbreaks if it is implemented. The best way to protect yourself is to stay informed. Pay attention to recalls and outbreaks and always discard any food that’s questionable. Obey sell-by and use-by dates and keep your kitchen as clean as possible.

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