The third largest multistate food poisoning outbreak of 2016 was the E. coli outbreak linked to recalled Gold Medal flour. Sixty-three people in 24 states were sickened after eating raw dough made with the flour. Seventeen people were hospitalized in this outbreak.
The CDC states that “although the outbreak investigation is over, illnesses are expected to continue for some time.” The flour has a long shelf life and some of it is most likely still in consumer’s homes. And since flour spreads so easily, cross-contamination between the flour and other ingredients and surfaces is inevitable.
Seventeen of those sickened were hospitalized because their illnesses were so serious. One person developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No one died in this outbreak.
Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback evidence indicates that flour produced at a General Mills facility in Kansas City, Missouri was the likely source of this outbreak. Several brands of flour were recalled, and a number of secondary recalls of products made with the flour were also issued.
The case count by state is: Alabama (1), Arkansas (1), Arizona (3), California (3), Colorado (4), Iowa (2), Illinois (4), Indiana (1), Massachusetts (3), Maryland (1), Michigan (4), Minnesota (7), Missouri (1), Montana (2), Nebraska (1), New York (4), Oklahoma (3), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (2), Tennessee (1), Texas (2), Virginia (3), Washington (5), and Wisconsin (4). Illnesses started on dates ranging from December 21, 2015 to September 5, 2016. The patient age range was from 1 year to 95, with a median age of 18.
The median age in this particular outbreak was so low because teenagers and children are more likely to eat raw cookie dough. This outbreak is a reminder that eating raw dough or letting children play with dough or homemade clay made with flour is unsafe. Three of those sickened in this outbreak, all children, reported eating or playing with raw dough at restaurants.
In this investigation, 28 of the 37 people interviewed said they or someone in their household used flour in the week before they became ill. Half of 38 people interviewed said they ate or tasted raw homemade dough or batter. And 21, or 57%, of the 37 interviewed said they used Gold Medal brand flour.
Tradeback investigations using package information collected from patient’s homes indicated that flour used by the patients was produced during the same week in November 2015 at the facility in Kansas City, Missouri. General Mills recalled Gold Medal Flour, Wondra Flour, and Signature Kitchens Flour for possible E. coli contamination.
In June 2016, laboratory testing by the FDA found STEC 0121 in open samples of General Mills flour collected form the homes of people in Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma. And in July 2016, lab testing by General Mills and the FDA isolated STEC O26 from a sample of General Mills flour. This bacteria was closely related genetically to isolates from an ill persons in the PulseNet database. General Mills expanded their recall on July 1, 2016 and on July 25, 2016 since the bacteria isolated in the flour samples was not included in the first recalls.
Check your pantry to see if you have any of the recalled products. If you do, throw them out in a sealed or double bagged container. Wash your hands well after handling the flour. If you aren’t sure whether or not you have these products, throw out the flour anyway.