The FDA has announced that it appears onions and celery in Costco chicken salad may be the source of E. coli O157:H7 bacteria that has sickened at least 19 people in 7 states. Those people live in California (1), Colorado (4), Missouri (1), Montana (6), Utah (5), Virginia (1), and Washington state (1). According to news outlets, Taylor Farms in Salinas, California is the supplier of the vegetables for Costco Wholesale. The vegetables from that supplier are used in the chicken salads sold in all of the company’s U.S. stores.
Of those 19 ill persons, 16 have been interviewed. Fourteen of those people purchased or ate rotisserie chicken salad from Costco stores the week before they got sick. Five of the patients have been hospitalized, and two are suffering from hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication of this type of infection. Costco is working with the CDC, FDA, and health officials in the affected states to try to solve this outbreak.
The CDC says that the number of ill persons will likely grow in the next few weeks, as they are diagnosed and the diagnoses are reported to government officials. The product has been removed from store shelves, but it can take time to get a definitive diagnosis of an E. coli infection. Illnesses in this outbreak began on October 6, 2015 and have continued to November 10, 2015. Illnesses after November 10 have not yet been reported to officials.
The fact that the outbreak had hit people in several states did point to a problem with a chicken salad ingredient that came from a common supplier. Vegetables are a common source of E. coli bacteria. They can be contaminated through polluted irrigation water, by animals defecating in the farm fields, in transport, handling, and processing, or by ill food workers.
All 19 patients have the same strain of E. coli bacteria, discovered through DNA fingerprinting, called pulsed field-gel electrophoresis. That means that all were sickened by the same source of food.
There is no evidence that any other Costco food was contaminated at this time. Chickens have not been connected to the outbreak. No other Costco foods use the same ingredients that were used to make the chicken salad.
If you purchased chicken salad at any U.S. Costco store on or before November 20, 2015, throw it away, even if no one has been ill. The code on the salad that was recalled is 37719, but since the contaminated vegetables could have been used anywhere in the country, do not eat any chicken salad purchased at Costco stores on or before November 20, 2015 as a precaution.
The symptoms of an E. coli O157:H7 infection include severe abdominal cramps, bloody and watery diarrhea, a mild fever, nausea, and vomiting. Those symptoms usually begin three to four days after eating contaminated food.
The symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) include pale skin, lethargy, little or no urine output, easy bruising, bleeding from the nose and mouth, and a skin rash. This complication of a shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection can be life-threatening. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should be taken to a doctor immediately.