The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced an E. coli 0121 outbreak linked to Farm Rich brand frozen food products. So far, 24 people in 15 states have been sickened in this outbreak. Rich Products Corporation recalled about 196,222 pounds of frozen chicken quesadillas and several other frozen mini meals and snack items because they may be contaminated with the Shiga-toxin producing bacteria.
So far, the case count is as follows: Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), Illinois (1), Indiana (2), Michigan (2), Mississippi (1), New York (3), Ohio (3), Pennsylvania (1), South Dakota (1), Texas (3), Utah (1), Virginia (1), Washington (1), and Wisconsin (2). Information indicates that consumption of Farm Rich brand frozen products is one likely source of infection for the outbreak. Seventy-eight percent of ill persons are 21 years old or younger. Seven people have been hospitalized. One patient developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Among persons for whom information is available, illness onset dates range from December 30, 2012 to March 9, 2013. The patient age range is from 2 years to 75 years; the median age is 17 years.
Attorney Fred Pritzker, who represents patients sickened with bacteria from processed food, said, “it’s unusual that a heat treated product is contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. Please check your freezers to see if you have this product; if so, discard it immediately. If you ate these products and have been sick, see your doctor immediately and tell her about this investigation.”
Since the best by dates are more than a year away, many people will have these products in their homes. Testing conducted by the New York State Department of Health found the outbreak strain of STEC 0121 in an open package of Farm Rich brand frozen chicken quesadillas from an ill person’s home.
The bacteria causing this outbreak is Shiga toxin-producing E. coli or STEC. E. coli 0121 is a serogroup, such as E. coli 0157:H7 or E. coli 0126. The STEC 0121 PFGE pattern in this outbreak is rare. Clinical labs typically cannot directly identify non-0157 STEC serogroups, they must test stool samples for Shiga toxins. When the toxins are found, those positive samples are then cultured in public health labs to look for non-0157 STEC.