In March 2009, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) through routine surveillance identified six cases of laboratory-confirmed E. coli O157:H7 with identical pulsed-field gel electrophoresis pattern (PFGE) among employees of the same company, Aetna. See Connecticut Department of Public Health Investigation Report, Attachment No. 1. Kirk Lusk was one of the employees identified as part of the outbreak.
DPH staff conducted an investigation and learned that all six employees consumed at least one meal purchased at the company cafeteria operated by Flik International Corp. in the week before their illness onset dates. The cafeteria was inspected by DPH environmental health staff. The sanitarian observed that:
A sheet pan of uncovered, fully roasted chicken tenders was stored overnight in a cooler directly underneath a sheet pan of uncovered, partially cooked, grill-marked hamburger patties.
According to the investigation report by DPH, several findings from the investigation indicate that consumption of chicken tenders was the most likely cause of this outbreak:
• The odds of developing illness was consistently greater from consumption of chicken tenders than from romaine lettuce on all dates of interest
• Consumption of chicken tenders from the salad bar on Wednesday was independently associated with illness
• Consumption of any chicken tenders on Thursday by employees who did not eat on Wednesday was associated with illness
• One confirmed case-patient had a meal on Thursday that contained chicken tenders but not romaine lettuce.
Based on these findings, the DPH concluded that, although chicken has historically not been a source of E. coli O157:H7, “the chicken tenders were most likely cross-contaminated, which could have occurred in several different ways.” Specifically, health officials noted:
One source of cross-contamination could be undercooked ground beef that might contain E. coli O157:H7. The close proximity of the roasted chicken tenders to undercooked beef patties during storage overnight could have exposed the chicken to drippings from the beef. (Connecticut regulations require food establishments to not store raw or partially-cooked potentially hazardous foods above ready-to-eat foods. Also, a kitchen utensil used to handle undercooked ground beef could have been used to serve or handle chicken tenders.
E. coli: Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of E. coli outbreaks and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The E. coli lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of E. coli and other foodborne illness infections and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our E. coli lawyers have litigated E. coli and HUS cases stemming from outbreaks traced to ground beef, raw milk, lettuce, spinach, sprouts, and other food products. The law firm has brought E. coli lawsuits against such companies as Jack in the Box, Dole, ConAgra, Cargill, and Jimmy John’s. We have proudly represented such victims as Brianne Kiner, Stephanie Smith and Linda Rivera.
If you or a family member became ill with an E. coli infection or HUS after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark E. coli attorneys for a free case evaluation.