Two Salmonella outbreaks at restaurants are sickening people in Minnesota and Washington, D.C. A Salmonella Newport outbreak at Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota has sickened at least 45 people, and an outbreak at Fig & Olive in Washington, D.C. may have sickened at least 20 people. There is a nationwide Salmonella Poona outbreak linked to imported cucumbers as well, with at least 341 people sickened in 30 states and two dead. Are these outbreaks related?
The short answer is we don’t know, but the Minnesota Department of Health has stated that the nationwide cucumber Salmonella outbreak is not related to the Chipotle outbreak. The cucumber Salmonella outbreak, caused by Salmonella Poona, has the potential to be huge, since the distributor, Andrew & Williamson, shipped the produce all over the country and to Canada. No one has released a distribution list of Andrew & Williamson customers that received the cucumbers, so we don’t know exactly where the cucumbers were sold.
Salmonella outbreaks in the past have been linked to chicken, as in the huge Foster Farms outbreak last year, and to produce. Given that, in the Chipotle outbreak, the illnesses are associated with many different restaurants, it’s likely that the contaminated food is produce, which is usually served uncooked.
Produce from cucumbers to tomatoes to fresh herbs to bean sprouts has been contaminated with Salmonella bacteria and caused outbreaks in the past. Even when these foods are washed before being prepared or served, they can carry bacteria. It can be very difficult to clean bacteria from produce, especially on foods with crenelated or rough surfaces. Bacteria can also make their way into the inside of fruits and vegetables, which means that no matter how thoroughly it’s washed, it will be contaminated as long as the food is not cooked.
Since Chipotle is a Mexican restaurant, the dishes served raw that include produce are salsa and salads. The investigation by public health officials will most likely uncover the culprit, but it will take time.
The outbreak at Fig & Olive could be linked to anything from chicken to produce to dairy products. Or it could be a case of cross-contamination from raw meats or poultry onto foods that are served uncooked. An ill food preparer or server could also contaminate foods and cause an outbreak. Or a supplier of food common to both restaurants could be the link, if there is one.
The symptoms of a Salmonella infection include nausea, severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea that may be bloody, vomiting, headache, fever, muscle aches, and chills. If you ate at a Chipotle restaurant in Minnesota or at the Fig & Olive in Washington, D.C. and have experienced these symptoms, please see your doctor as soon as possible.
A Salmonella infection can be very serious. The typical hospitalization rate in this type of outbreak is about 20%. Most people are hospitalized for dehydration after becoming ill, but some develop sepsis, or a blood infection, that can be life-threatening.
In addition, long term consequences of a Salmonella infection can be severe. Reiter’s Syndrome, which causes reactive arthritis, is one such complication. Other complications include irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease, high blood pressure, and immunological problems. Your doctor should have a record of this infection on your chart so she can watch for problems in the future.